Palestinian flags

Palestinian flags

Israel warned the Palestinians on Monday that declaring a state without concluding a peace agreement would lead to Israeli countermeasures that could include annexation of more of the occupied West Bank.

“If the Palestinians take such a unilateral line, Israel should consider passing a law to annex some of the settlements,” said Environment Minister Gilad Erdan, a close ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman would not specify what action Israel might take. But he said: “It is clear any such step by the Palestinians will not pass without an Israeli response.”

Without setting a time frame, Palestinian officials said on Sunday they planned to go to the UN Security Council in an effort to secure international support for an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The officials attributed the move to frustration at the lack of progress in peace talks, which have been stalled for a year.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said negotiations could not resume until Israel halted settlement expansion.

Diplomats said it was not immediately obvious by what means the Palestinians might pursue a declaration of statehood, or how international law might apply.

Recent examples suggest they might take the same route as Israel’s founders in 1947 and simply seek UN support for a resolution calling for statehood, which is what East Timor did to become the first new state of the 21st century in 2002.

Or they might declare independence without going to the UN as Kosovo did when it became the world’s newest state in 2008, knowing it could not win Security Council endorsement because of a threatened Russian veto, but would receive quick recognition by most NATO and European Union governments.

The Palestinian remarks on possible unilateral steps prompted a warning from Netanyahu. He said in a speech on Sunday only peace talks with Israel would secure a Palestinian state.

“There is no substitute for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and any unilateral path will only unravel the framework of agreements between us and will only bring unilateral steps from Israel’s side,” Netanyahu said.

Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the aim of the initiative was not to declare statehood but was meant to preserve the two-state option and to formalize international support for the nation the Palestinians want to establish.

“Heading to the Security Council to issue a resolution recognizing an independent Palestinian state differs entirely from a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state,” Erekat said in a statement. “The PLO is not proposing the option of declaring a state unilaterally.”

Erdan noted other sanctions open to Israel, which captured the West Bank in a 1967 war and annexed some of the territory along with Arab East Jerusalem.

“Everything is open. It could begin at stopping the transfer of money that the Israeli government currently transfers to the Palestinian Authority,” he said, referring to tax payments Israel collects on the Palestinian Authority’s behalf under interim peace deals.

Erdan said Israel might consider tightening recently loosened travel restrictions on Palestinians in the West Bank. –REUTERS