Israel resigned to major setback at U.N.

Palestinians expect to win status boost

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JERUSALEM -- With Western support swelling in favor of a Palestinian bid for enhanced status at the United Nations, Israel engaged in damage control Wednesday, a day before the vote.

Israeli officials began to play down the significance of a draft resolution that calls for the upgrading of the Palestinian status to nonmember observer state from observer, a change that is also opposed by the United States, but that is virtually certain to pass. Additionally, Israel has also toned down its threats of countermeasures after the vote, aware that a harsh reaction would only isolate it further.

"The United Nations General Assembly will pass a one-sided anti-Israel resolution that should come as a surprise to nobody, and certainly not to anyone in Israel," said Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli government. "We always said that the reality was that the Palestinians have an automatic majority in the General Assembly."

While Mr. Regev acknowledged "a certain amount of disappointment" over the decision of some friendly European countries to support the Palestinians or abstain from the vote, he said: "Ultimately what we will see at the United Nations is diplomatic theater. It will in no way affect the realities on the ground."

Israel's response, he said, will be "proportionate" to how the Palestinians act after the vote.

At first, Israel had hoped to deter the Palestinians from pursuing a vote. Officials warned that such a step could result in Israeli responses as drastic as the cancellation of the Israeli-Palestinian peace accords or the collapse of the Palestinian Authority.

When that effort failed, Israel focused on ensuring what it called a "moral majority" in the vote, meaning that even if a majority of nations voted in favor of the Palestinian bid, the major world powers and most European countries would not.

But France announced Tuesday that it would support the Palestinian bid. Other European nations, including Switzerland, Denmark and Norway, have followed.

Britain, which had previously lobbied along with the United States to try to get the Palestinians at least to postpone their maneuver, said it would consider voting for the resolution pending certain amendments and public assurances, including a clear commitment from the Palestinians that they would return immediately to negotiations with Israel without preconditions and that they would not pursue Israel for war crimes in the International Criminal Court. Otherwise, Britain says, it will abstain.

Germany has said it won't vote for the resolution but has not yet specified if it will vote against it.

Israelis and the Palestinians agree on one thing: support for the Palestinian bid grew as a result of the recent fighting in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls the coastal enclave. That conflict elevated Hamas' stature among Palestinians at the expense of Mahmoud Abbas, the moderate president of the Palestinian Authority, which holds sway in parts of the West Bank.

But the seeming setback for Mr. Abbas at home might help him at the United Nations. "Before the military confrontation there were several European countries willing to oppose the resolution," said Oded Eran, a former Israeli ambassador to the European Union. The new support, he said, is meant "to give Abbas a moral victory over Hamas in the contest between violence and diplomacy."

Husam Zomlot, a Palestinian official who has been active in lobbying in Europe, said more countries had decided "to support the diplomatic horizon and not the military-security approach that they see leads nowhere."

Israel has argued that the Palestinian move is a unilateral action that violates peace accords and that a vote for the resolution -- which, according to the draft, "reaffirms the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to independence in their state of Palestine on the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967" -- will make it harder to negotiate a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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