Latin America Deepens Israel Isolation

JERUSALEM – Guyana became Thursday the seventh Latin American state to recognize an independent Palestinian state. Although the official recognitions are largely nominal, they have irked the state of Israel as they expose its growing diplomatic isolation in the face of the current peace deadlock.

It was the announcement in support of Palestinian statehood by Brazil on Dec. 3 that inspired other countries in the continent to follow suit. Since then, Uruguay, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile, and now Guyana, have all offered such recognition.

Paraguay and Peru are expected to do so soon. Venezuela had already recognized Palestine in the mid-2000s.

Israeli officials fear a “domino effect.”

Recently, Norway upgraded the Palestinian representative office in Oslo from a “general delegation” to a “diplomatic delegation.” And over the past four months, several countries, including none other than the U.S. (followed by other Israel-friendly states such as France, Spain, and Portugal) upgraded the standing of Palestinian representatives.

Another hundred or so other countries – most of them developing nations – had recognized Palestine after Yasser Arafat unilaterally declared independence in 1988.

Other states, mostly from the former Eastern Bloc, recognized Palestinian statehood in the wake of the 1993 Oslo peace accords.

At first, when the new string of recognitions began last month, Israel expressed “regret,” “sadness,” and “disappointment.”

A Foreign Ministry statement called such moves “counterproductive” and “damaging” to peace, arguing that “to decide in advance in a unilateral manner about important issues which are disputed, only harms trust between the sides, and hurts their commitment to the agreed framework of negotiating towards peace.”

Then, when Chile made the move to recognize Palestine, Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon wrote bluntly in his personal blog, “‘The state of Facebook’ is more real than ‘Palestine.'”

Much like the global social network, the Palestinian Authority is looking for “virtual friends” in an effort to create “a virtual state,” Ayalon argued.

“Facebook is the ‘like’ state, and so is the Palestinian state recognized in Brasilia and Buenos Aires,” he said, referring to the announcements made by Brazil and Argentina.

“Irresponsible governments are quick to ‘like’ the Palestinian state without actually checking out its profile: an authority without sovereignty, with no borders or territorial continuity, no economic ability or democratic culture,” he added.

Ayalon has himself gained international recognition (so to speak) for his undiplomatic style. Last year, he publicly humiliated the Turkish ambassador to Israel.

In a blatant violation of standard diplomatic codes of conduct, while remonstrating with the envoy for Turkey’s criticism of Israel, Ayalon had refused to shake his hand and to display the Turkish flag, and had him seated on a lower chair.

Yet, besides sarcastic diatribes, Israel has had an increasingly difficult time coordinating a clear strategy with its U.S. ally against what it sees as a double-barrelled challenge.

On one hand, more and more states are willing to recognize a future Palestinian state with or without Israel’s approval; on the other, Israel faces proportionately increasing diplomatic isolation.

Israeli officials are all too aware that unilateral recognition of Palestinian statehood “within the 1967 borders” underscores the increasing unwillingness in the international community to wait until Israel and the Palestinians reach a peace deal.

Since the U.S.-brokered peace efforts faltered over the issue of a three-month extension of a freeze in Israeli settlement construction, the Palestinian Authority under President Mahmoud Abbas has lobbied nations for recognition of Palestinian sovereignty in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

Last month, the EU staved off Palestinian pressure for such recognition, preferring a wait-and-see approach until the “appropriate” time, while the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution stating that only peace talks could set such a process in motion.

In parallel, in a bid to evaluate the viability of a unilateral declaration of independence, the PA started last month to circulate a draft resolution to the members of the UN Security Council. The Palestinian document states that Israeli settlements activities are illegal and are the main obstacle to a two-state solution.

In contrast to past similar resolutions which were easily thwarted due to their harsh anti-Israeli character, this draft uses moderate wording. Israeli officials worry that it will be more difficult for the U.S. to veto such a resolution.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if within one year the whole world supports a Palestinian state, including the U.S.,” says Benjamin Ben Eliezer, a senior Labor Party minister in the right-wing government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Then we’ll ask where we were, and what we were doing,” said Ben Eliezer. He lambasted his coalition partners for lacking a clear peace policy vision.

Columnist Ari Shavit bemoans the current diplomatic paralysis: “Time is running out. The Palestinians are going to the UN.”

“If the prime minister indeed has a peace vision, he will have to present it to the international community. He will have to speak out clearly soon in the most dramatic way,” he wrote in Ha’aretz. “For Benjamin Netanyahu, the next 100 days are the last.”

Meanwhile, ignoring these dire admonitions, the Israeli leader warned against “imposed settlement from the outside.” “It doesn’t work,” Netanyahu declared last week matter-of-factly during an annual meeting with the international press in Jerusalem.

“The Palestinians are flying out to the world: South America, Asia, the far corners of the world. Save a lot of air fuel by just going 10 minutes, coming here. There is no short-cut to negotiations,” Netanyahu said.

Using the catchphrase coined by Abba Eban, Israel’s renowned diplomat, he added, “I hate to use clichés. But this is a cliché that I have to use. The Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”

Netanyahu’s selective use of Eban’s legacy could not be left unnoticed.

In 1947, the General Assembly voted the Partition Plan of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states. The state of Israel was created, sparking the Arab-Israeli conflict. A liaison officer to the UN Special Committee on Palestine at that time, Abba Eban had been successful in attaining international recognition of Israel.

(Inter Press Service)