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Israel Allies Lobby Against U.N. Recognition Of Palestinian State

First Posted: 05/26/11 05:37 PM ET Updated: 07/26/11 06:12 AM ET

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WASHINGTON -- As more signs point to the lack of progress in the Middle East peace process, American Jewish groups and supporters of Israel are working to head off an expected September vote in the United Nations General Assembly to recognize a state of Palestine.

Even before last week's visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to put the kibosh on renewed negotiations with the Palestinians, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and Jewish groups have been whipping the vote in the 192-member General Assembly where two-thirds, or 128 countries, are needed to recognize a Palestinian state.

The matter may never get to the floor of the General Assembly, of course, as it would first require the recommendation of the U.N.'s Security Council, a move that could be vetoed by the United States.

But an official with a U.S. Jewish organization, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the issue, said Israel's allies expect to lose if the issue comes up for a vote.

In February, more than 100 nations voted for a U.N. resolution that would have condemned "illegal" Israeli settlements and halted any new construction. The United States vetoed it.

The Jewish organization official said the United States, Israel and allies such as Canada and Australia are working hard to hold any possible vote below the two-thirds threshold. If a majority of nations vote for statehood, he said the thinking goes, a tally of 110 or 115 states would be considered a "Pyrrhic victory" for the Palestinians.

So Jewish groups are looking to the Caribbean for support, meeting with representatives of Haiti, Jamaica, the Bahamas, Barbados, St. Lucia and Antigua. They are talking with Central American countries such as Panama and Costa Rica.

In Eastern Europe, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and Bulgaria are being lobbied as possible "no" votes. Kenya is on the list. So are Pacific Island nations such as Kiribati and Vanuatu.

No country is too small. Lobbyists for Israel will be schmoozing up the tiny principalities of Andorra, Monoco, Liechtenstein and San Marino, which wield the same clout in the full member body as China or Russia.

The Palestinians are also lobbying for support, of course, and are likely to push harder now that President Mahmoud Abbas has made clear he considers the door shut on further negotiations with Israel.

In January, Abbas laid the foundation for a Palestinian embassy in Brazil, the first of several South American countries to recognize Palestinian statehood along 1967 borders. Last year, the pro-Palestinian Arab League held its first summit with Pacific Island states such as Tonga.

That development has Israel's allies worried. At a session with congressional lawmakers at the AIPAC meeting in Washington, D.C., last week, one participant suggested that the Arab League was "trying to buy their vote" and wondered aloud whether the United States could "throw a sprinkling" of foreign aid to Pacific Island nations.

Whether such efforts would reduce Israel's isolation at the world body is doubtful.

"Every country will vote for [Palestinian statehood] except the U.S., Israel and maybe Samoa," said Wendy Chamberlin, president of the Middle East Institute and a former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, at a recent Brookings Institution event.

"There is an automatic majority for the Palestinians in the General Assembly," said a European diplomat based in Washington. "The real question is where the Europeans will go."

So far, most European Union nations are hewing to U.S. President Barack Obama's position that Israel and the Palestinians must return to negotiations this summer because a U.N. vote would be largely symbolic.

Obama is traveling in Europe this week to confer with leaders of the G-8 nations and round up support for the Middle East vision he laid out last week.

British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy have both threatened to support a U.N. vote if the two sides don't resume negotiations.

Cameron said Wednesday that he wanted to "try and maximize the leverage and pressure that the European Union can bring, frankly, on both sides to get this vital process moving."

The 27 member states of the European Union have rarely reached consensus on the Middle East, though. Germany and Poland have usually sided with Israel, while Ireland, Finland, Sweden and Denmark have been more sympathetic to the Palestinians.

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