Israeli leaders, who had feared that the Palestinian bid for UN membership would unleash a “diplomatic tsunami,” hailed an international plan for fresh talks between the sides as a victory on Sunday.
But media commentators said Friday’s speeches to the General Assembly by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and Israel’s premier Benjamin Netanyahu gave no cause for hope of an end soon to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“The strategy of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has succeeded,” cabinet secretary Tzvi Hauser told Israeli army radio.
“He put the brakes on the Palestinian initiative, which sought to achieve its goals in a unilateral manner.
“What appeared to be the threat of a diplomatic tsunami for Israel has turned out to be empty, from the Palestinian perspective,” Hauser said.
The peacemaking Quartet — the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia — proposed a new timetable for bilateral negotiations after Abbas submitted a request for UN membership for a Palestinian state.
Talks between the two sides have been on hold for nearly a year, grinding to a halt shortly after they were relaunched in Washington over the issue of Jewish settlements.
“In terms of public relations we have achieved significant success. Many countries now agree with the Israeli approach, primarily the United States,” senior government spokesman Yoaz Hendel told army radio from New York.
Hardline Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman welcomed the Quartet plan, which calls for new talks to start within a month, concrete proposals from the two sides within three months, substantial progress in six months and a final accord by the end of 2012.
“I think we should accept the proposal of the Quartet, as it includes a very positive point: the opening of negotiations without preconditions,” Lieberman, also speaking from New York, told public radio.
Sunday’s Israeli papers, the first to appear since Friday’s UN speeches which were delivered while Israel was already observing the Jewish Sabbath, took a darker view.
“Netanyahu and Abu Mazen (Abbas) are returning home to their peoples with suitcases packed with big, highly charged and weighty words,” Nahum Barnea, one of Israel’s most influential commentators, wrote in the top-selling Yediot Aharonot daily.
“There was just one word that they forgot to bring with them: hope,” he added. “Coping with the conflict has never been easy. Without a glimmer of hope it is going to be all the more difficult to do so.”
In Maariv, Ben Caspit likened Israel to the RMS Titanic steaming steadily towards disaster.
“Despite the temporary euphoria, this ship continues to sail happily towards the iceberg, and this time instead of music, we are hearing fiery speeches from the upper deck,” he wrote.
“Let’s hope that fire is hot enough to melt icebergs.”
Alon Pinkas, a former Israeli consul-general in New York, aired his views in an interview with the privately owned Channel 10 television.
“Abbas has the impression that he has created a state and Netanyahu has the impression that he has prevented the creation of that state,” he said.
“They are both mistaken.”