BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Israel's hardline foreign minister warned Wednesday of a tough response if Palestinians declare independence at the U.N. this fall, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to cement Romanian opposition to the plan.
With peace talks deadlocked for more than two years, the Palestinians plan to ask the U.N. to recognize their independence in September and both sides have been lobbying hard around the world for support. The move would be largely symbolic but the Palestinians hope it will pressure Israel to withdraw from captured territories they claim for a future state.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told reporters in Israel on Wednesday that "unilateral steps will force us to take unilateral steps."
"It's important for us to convey the message that any unilateral step can only harm the process, can only harm the chances of reaching a reasonable accord in the Middle East," Lieberman said after briefing Israeli lawmakers at a closed parliamentary hearing.
According to a participant who spoke on condition of anonymity because the parliamentary hearing was closed, Lieberman said that Israel could freeze the transfer of tax revenues, cancel the free passage of Palestinian leaders into Israel and apply pressure through the United States.
The same source said that Lieberman expressed concern that Palestinians would use a U.N. platform to initiate moves against Israelis at the International Criminal Court in the Hague.
Netanyahu was in Romania as part of ongoing efforts to drum up opposition to the Palestinian plan, and appeared to confirm the support of Prime Minister Emil Boc.
"We reaffirmed our country's position that a negotiated solution between the parties, with no unilateral solution, is the only way to ensure real and solid grounds for a lasting peace," Boc said. Netanyahu did not touch on the issue during a press conference after his meeting with Boc.
Netanyahu has already visited Britain and France, among other countries, and continues on to Bulgaria on Thursday. Lieberman said that Israel had already garnered the support of the U.S., Canada, Italy and Germany and was working on convincing other like-minded nations to side with it in September.
Most of the developing world, including Arab and Muslim countries, can be counted on to back the Palestinians — leaving very few countries that might still go either way at the U.N.
"Israel is currently busy trying to get the moral majority in the United Nations," Lieberman said, but considering the bloc of Muslim and unaligned nations was between 125-130 countries, "we don't have any illusions."
The Palestinians aim to win two-thirds support in the 192-member General Assembly at the United Nations — or 129 countries — and are now about 13 countries short of their target.
The assembly's decisions aren't legally binding. That would require approval by the powerful Security Council, where the United States has indicated it will veto any Palestinian move in the absence of a negotiated peace deal.
The European Union is working to forge a common position on the issue even as EU countries are split over Palestinian statehood.
Aron Heller reported from Jerusalem.