Israel’s air strikes on the Gaza Strip have heightened the tensions surrounding the Palestinian bid for observer membership at the United Nations planned for later this month.
The Palestinian U.N. envoy said Wednesday’s attack - which killed the top Hamas military commander in the territory - was deliberately timed to torpedo the U.N. vote in two weeks and influence Israel’s general election in January.
Israel’s U.N. ambassador retorted that events in Gaza had shown the futility of the Palestinian campaign for international recognition.
Ambassador Ron Prosor said “they should change their request from a Non-Member State to Non-Member Terrorist State.”
The United States and Israel are lobbying furiously against the Palestinian bid, which president Mahmud Abbas is scheduled to put to the U.N. General Assembly on Nov. 29.
Abbas has had no control over Gaza since 2007, when the Islamist Hamas seized power from his Fatah faction in a week of street battles, cleaving the Palestinians into hostile rival camps.
The new military strikes on Gaza, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has threatened to expand, come as the United Nations and many key players warn that time is running out to establish a Palestinian state.
The U.S. and Israeli governments say there can be no Palestinian state without direct peace talks that have been deadlocked for more than two years.
The Palestinians refuse talks while Israel expands its settlements in the occupied territories. Abbas has said, however, that he would return to talks if the U.N. vote is successful.
The United States is talking with Palestinian officials in a bid to at least delay the vote, U.N. diplomats said.
“The Gaza strikes will complicate negotiations around the Palestinian application even more,” one Western official said on condition of anonymity.
The Europeans are pressing Abbas to delay the U.N. move until after Israel’s election and President Barack Obama’s inauguration in January, in order to give the U.S. administration more time to prepare a new peace bid, diplomats said.
“The Palestinians are doing this because they are frustrated. They believe they have nothing to lose going for it now, so they will not change it unless the United States has something to offer,” said one Middle East diplomat.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice, who strongly defended Israel’s military strikes at an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting on Wednesday, said rocket attacks by Gaza militants are harming efforts to end the Middle East conflict.
“Hamas claims to have the best interests of the Palestinian people at heart, yet it continues to engage in violence that does nothing but set back the Palestinian cause,” said Rice, a frontrunner to be the next secretary of state.
The Israeli ambassador meanwhile warned the Security Council meeting that Palestinian success at the United Nations could lead to more violence.
“The false idol of virtual statehood will change nothing on the ground, raising expectations that cannot be met,” he said.
“The state that they envision includes Gaza - that means it includes Hamas. The Palestinian leadership is marching down a road that can only lead to more conflict, instability, and violence.”
Palestinian ambassador Riyad Mansour questioned why Israel is fighting so hard against the U.N. vote if it believes the bid is meaningless, saying Israeli leaders are “dead afraid” of Palestinian admission to the General Assembly.
“I believe part of the timing of the attack by the Israelis on Gaza is trying to divert attention away from our energies in mobilizing the international community” for the U.N. vote, he said.
With U.N. membership potentially allowing a move to join the International Criminal Court and other multilateral bodies, Mansour said recognition “will open so many doors for us, to allow us to defend ourselves in a better way politically, diplomatically and legally.”