International support for a planned Palestinian declaration of independence at the U.N. in September is waning, in large part because of intense Israeli lobbying against the initiative, a senior Israeli diplomat claimed Monday.
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, who has personally led Israel's lobbying effort, said he does not expect to prevent a pro-Palestinian resolution from passing in the U.N. General Assembly, where it would have little more than symbolic value. But he believes a "moral majority" of Western countries will not support the Palestinians, further limiting the impact of any resolution.
Ayalon told reporters he has been crisscrossing the globe to rally support for Israel. He said he personally met with representatives of 45 Latin American and European countries, and believes that many are not going to vote with the Palestinians.
"What seemed to be a landslide for the Palestinians has stopped," Ayalon told reporters.
The Palestinians seek an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, areas that Israel captured in the 1967 war. With peace talks stalled since late 2008, the Palestinians have instead decided to seek U.N. recognition of an independent Palestine along the pre-1967 lines.
The Palestinians have said they will seek recognition in the Security Council, whose decisions are legally binding. The U.S., which says the Israel-Palestinian conflict should be resolved through negotiations, has strongly signaled it will use its veto power over any resolution in the council.
The Palestinians could instead go to the General Assembly and seek recognition there as a nonmember observer state. A majority of countries in the assembly, which is dominated by developing countries sympathetic to the Palestinians, is expected to support Palestinian statehood in the pre-1967 lines. The move would be largely symbolic and not change much on the ground, but could isolate Israel.
Last week, the Arab League endorsed the Palestinians' U.N. strategy.
With the outcome of the vote widely anticipated, the question is which countries, particularly those in Europe, will back the Palestinians. Italy and Germany have already said they will support Israel, while the positions of other key countries like Britain and France remain in question.
Poland's foreign minister has said the European Union is split on the issue, but working on a common position. Poland is holding the rotating presidency of the EU for the next six months.
Ayalon refused to disclose the politics of the individual countries he has lobbied. He said he expects Israel to get widespread backing from the West, citing the 62 countries that abstained from or opposed a U.N. report that heavily criticized Israel's conduct during its 2008-2009 military offensive in the Gaza Strip.
"We can surmise that this will be the same bloc of countries" that would vote against recognizing a Palestinian state in the U.N. in September, he said. Britain and France abstained from the vote on the U.N. report.
Ayalon said he hoped the Palestinians would back away from the U.N. plan, warning that a vote could lead to "disappointment and maybe violence" in the Palestinian territories.
The latest round of peace talks broke down last September, just three weeks after their launch, with the end of an Israeli moratorium on West Bank settlement construction.
The Palestinians say there is no point in negotiating if Israel continues to build homes in Jewish enclaves in the very territories the Palestinians claim for their state. Some 500,000 Israelis now live in east Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says all issues, including the future of Jewish settlements and final borders between Israel and a future Palestine, are matters for negotiations.
On Monday, Israel put out bids to build 336 apartments in Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Ariel Rosenberg, spokesman for the Ministry of Construction and Housing, estimated ground would be broken within a year and that the construction would be completed in about three years.
Ghassan Khatib, a spokesman for the Palestinian government in the West Bank, said Israel "is expressing its determination to further undermine the chances of resuming a meaningful peace process."
In another development, the Israeli rights group B'Tselem criticized Israel's military for trying and jailing more than 800 Palestinian youths for throwing rocks at Israelis from 2005 to 2010. The group said Israel was violating the rights of Palestinian children.
Israel's military responded that dozens of Israelis have been injured in attacks by Palestinian minors, and the youths are treated in accordance with accepted standards.