An increasing number of ambassadors and representatives of Latin American states have been walking the corridors of the Foreign Ministry in recent weeks. One after the other, like a red wave, they have come to meet with senior figures and diplomats.
Some are "welcomed" with admonishments and protest, while some are heaped with praise – depending on their country's intentions regarding the recognition of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. The message they get in all the meetings is the same: Such recognition will harm the peace process and push the Palestinians away from negotiations.
The fires which raged on the Carmel range drowned out Brazil's announcement that it would recognize a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders – an announcement which caught the Foreign Ministry off guard. When the flames subsided and Argentina announced it would follow in Brazil's footsteps, the Ministry began assessing the damage and formulating its position.
Abbas with France's Sarkozy (Photo: AFP)
The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem is not dragging its heels. On Monday, acting Director General Rafi Barak sent instructions to all Israeli representatives of all ranks around the world, including explanatory and legal arguments against Palestinian aspirations towards international recognition of their state, and against their attempts to promote UN General Assembly resolutions condemning Israel. However, it seems the Palestinian wave continues to gather strength.
From warfare to lawfare
Palestinian attempts to garner international recognition of a state are not new to Israel. In November 1988, PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat announced the establishment and independence of Palestine during a Palestinian National Council convention in Algeria. Following Arafat's announcement, 94 states acknowledged the Palestinian state, but without UN blessing.
"So they climbed onto the roofs and set off fireworks," said Brigadier General (res.) Shalom Harari, former advisor on Palestinian affairs at the Defense Ministry. "And what happened? Nothing."
Problems of outside recognition and the de facto lack of land on which to build a state made Arafat's announcement mere showmanship. However, in light of the stumbling peace process, Palestinian attempts to attract international recognition have increased in recent months.
"Abu Mazen (Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas) is operating in a problematic arena, while acting as a non-elected president," Harari said. "He needs outside assistance to stay afloat politically and outside legitimacy to show his nation that he is achieving something."
Netanyahu with Brazil's Lula (Photo: Lior Mizrahi)
"Now, after a list of achievements, including putting an end to the chaos, economic growth and security cooperation with Israel, the 'rabbits from the hat' have run out," Harari claims. "In such a situation of a lack of achievements, Arafat would have opened fire. But what we see today is a change of direction within the PA, which is part of Abu Mazen's big switch – 'we don’t fire, we talk.' Some people call this new Palestinian approach 'a soft intifada' – they have moved from fighting with weapons (warfare) to a legal-procedural battle (lawfare), which is not violent and is welcomed by the West."
Harari says Palestinian Prime Minister Salem Fayyad is behind the new policy.
"The idea is to create momentum for the possibility of a UN resolution condemning Israel's settlements at the beginning of next year, and for the recognition of a Palestinian state by August or September 2011," he claims. "They are trying to pressure Israel through the international community, signaling – 'If you don't cede to us, you're going to lose everything.' Each time their state is recognized, Abu Mazen heaps praise and reaps the benefits."
Brazil blazing trail
It was not by chance that Brazil led the way in recognizing a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. Brazil is considered to be a central player in Latin America and in the international community. It is the fifth-largest state in the world with the eighth-largest economy, and under the leadership of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Brazil is showing signs of aspiring to an even greater international role, marked by its temporary membership in the UN Security Council. Brazil is also the leader of the Mercosur economic bloc, which includes Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay as well.
Though in recent years Brazil has become increasingly pro-Palestinian in the political arena, Israel has been encouraged by a number of economic agreements and cooperation in the military arena. But Brazil's dramatic announcement some two weeks ago marked the beginning of a wave of recognition, with Argentina and then Bolivia following suit.
Abbas (L) and Fayyad (Photo: Reuters)
The historic membership of South American countries as well as Arab states in the non-aligned bloc, founded in 1955, also plays a part in recent developments. Most non-aligned states are third-world nations who united during the Cold War and declared they would not support either of the superpowers. Instead, they said, they would worry about their common interests to promote their global standing. Even today, these states tend to vote as a bloc in the UN.
"The common factor uniting these countries is hatred for the US," claimed a diplomat in a Latin American state during a conversation with Ynet. "Without generalizing, Latin American countries see themselves as underprivileged southern states facing rich northern developed states. They often act as a bloc, with Brazil leading the way and the others toeing the line. It is not surprising that Argentina followed, and it is likely that Uruguay will soon act similarly."
Even though Israel's standing in Latin America is actually reasonable, there are fears that other states will recognize Palestine. An immediate candidate is Ecuador, according to the Foreign Ministry. Abbas has also said so recently.
Two states Israel considers central in the struggle for recognition of a Palestinian state are Chile, which has an Arab population of some half a million, and Mexico, which could take the wave of recognition outside South America.
"If Chile and Mexico follow Brazil and Argentina, this will be a sign for all the other Latin American states, who will not find it comfortable to stay on the sidelines," the same diplomat said. However, he said, as long as the wave remains within the borders of Latin America, the damage to Israel will not be great.
"We have our own status in Latin America, which is based on decades of cooperation, on a good image due to our economic and technological strength, and on our stamina," he said.
Face towards Asia and Europe
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon has been talking with his Chilean and Brazilian counterparts recently, to explain Israel's position regarding the issue and to clarify their importance in restarting negotiations. At present, the diplomatic source said, the South American develops are no more than a minor irritant.
"After all," he claimed, "Latin America is on the second or third circle of diplomatic importance for Israel. The problem is if the wave moves outside (Latin America)."
Bolivia's Morales (L) and Chile's Bachelet (Photo: AP)
While Israel acts to stop the "red wave" of recognition of a Palestinian state, the "other side" continues its efforts to garner support on other continents. There have been reports recently that the EU is considering Germany's proposal to recognize a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. Following Foreign Ministry efforts, this proposal was moderated at the last minute to "recognition of Palestine when the time comes" – and even this proposal was eventually rejected.
In Norway, which is not a member of the EU, the buds of Palestinian efforts can be seen, and the Palestinian representative in Oslo was upgraded to ambassador status.
The Foreign Ministry fears that a wave of recognition in so many continents will have a domino effect which will be very hard to halt.
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