Israel plays down September face off with Palestinians

JERUSALEM – Israel's defense minister played down on Sunday the prospect that fighting with the Palestinians will flare up when they apply for full UN membership next month in the absence of peace talks.

Israel has been reinforcing troops and riot police in the occupied West Bank as well as on its fronts with Gaza, Lebanon and Syria, worried pro-Palestinian protests could be inflamed by the late-September face off in New York.

Asked on Israel's Army Radio whether events might unfold quietly, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said: "My assessment and hope is yes."

He noted Israel's security coordination with Palestinian authorities, who say the campaign to win international endorsement for sovereignty in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem is non-violent.

Israel has no plan to mobilize additional military reserves next month, but it has bought "tens of millions of shekels' worth of riot dispersal gear" and invested in intelligence gathering, Barak said.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators from Lebanon and Syria surged against Israeli boundary fences on 15 May and 5 June, drawing army garrison gunfire which killed and wounded dozens of people.

Commanders say Israeli forces have since been equipped with more non-lethal weaponry but will still shoot to kill as a last resort.

Israel annexed East Jerusalem as its capital – a move not recognized abroad – and disputes the Palestinian claim on all of the West Bank.

Palestinians have waged two uprisings against Israel in the past quarter-century, but there appears to be little appetite for renewed conflict in the West Bank, where the economy has strengthened and violence has dropped dramatically in recent years.

The United States, which has veto power in the UN Security Council, is expected to oppose any Palestinian bid to seek a unilateral UN mandate for statehood.

The Palestinians have signaled they will seek separately, through the General Assembly, an upgrading of their UN status from observer entity to non-member state. This is expected to pass as it does not require Security Council approval.

Deputy Israeli Foreign Ministry Danny Ayalon saw a General Assembly majority for the proposal to make Palestine the 194th UN state as inevitable. But Israel's counter-lobbying continues.

"Our objective is to arrive at a stage where there is a bloc of countries, a bloc of serious, moral countries that will not vote in favor of the Palestinians. And if we do so and arrive at such a bloc of between 50 to 70 countries, I think that we can claim a victory on our terms," Ayalon told Army Radio.

Israel and the Palestinians briefly resumed direct peace talks last September but these unraveled within weeks in a dispute over Israeli settlement construction.

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