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A shift in tone follows eight days of fighting around the Gaza Strip. Israel seems reluctant to spurn the goodwill European leaders demonstrated when it was attacking Gaza’s Hamas Islamists. And it may also be wary of further undermining moderate, Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas, whose standing among Palestinians has been eroded by Hamas’s violent approach.
Direct peace negotiations with Abbas were suspended in 2010 in a dispute over Israeli settlement building in the West Bank.
Netanyahu is running for re-election in a Jan. 22 national ballot and has been accused by critics of harming Israel’s international standing through his Palestinian policies.
WAIT AND SEE
Asked about retaliation, Israeli officials said Israel will wait and see what the Palestinians do after the vote, which will allow them access to the International Criminal Court where they could seek action against Israel for alleged war crimes.
The Palestinians have signalled they are no hurry to join the ICC, and pledged in their draft resolution to relaunch the peace process immediately after the vote. Recognition by the General Assembly falls short of the legal weight of a similar move by the U.N. Security Council. A U.S. veto on that body ensures that Palestinians have little immediate prospect there.
Just two weeks ago, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the U.N. Assembly’s approval of the Palestinian resolution would “elicit an extreme response from us”.
Another member of Netanyahu’s right-wing cabinet, Environment Minister Gilad Erdan, said three years ago that Israeli counter-measures could include annexing some of the 120 settlements in the West Bank, territory captured in a 1967 war and which Palestinians say should belong to their state.
But in the past week, Israeli officials have retreated from such talk, retrenching after European countries, which had been largely supportive of Israel’s Nov. 14-21 Gaza offensive, started showing their backing for Abbas’s U.N. move.
At least 11 of the 27 European Union states say they will vote in favour of the Palestinian motion, while Israel’s closest EU ally, Germany, has said it will abstain.
Israel is now threatening only one measure: the withholding of $200 million from the monthly transfers of duties that Israel collects on the Palestinian Authority’s behalf. It says it will cover the PA’s debt to the Israel Electric Corporation.
The deduction, equal to two months’ worth of Palestinian tax receipts, would be painful for Abbas’s cash-strapped government in Ramallah. But it would stop short of a formal suspension of transfers vital to the economy in the occupied West Bank.
Israel has previously frozen payments to the PA during times of heightened security and diplomatic tensions, provoking strong international criticism, such as when the U.N. cultural body UNESCO granted the Palestinians full membership a year ago.