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Originally published December 1, 2012 at 4:54 PM | Page modified December 2, 2012 at 8:35 AM

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Israelis stunned by Germany's abstention on U.N. Palestine vote

Most stinging of all in the U.N. vote on the status of Palestinians was the decision by Germany, long one of Israel's most dependable supporters, to abstain rather than vote against the declaration.

McClatchy Newspapers

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JERUSALEM — Israeli officials had long known they would be on the losing end of the U.N. General Assembly's vote on whether to grant Palestine official status as a nonmember observer state. Palestinian officials months ago had said they had gathered enough votes to win the declaration.

But it wasn't until the final votes were cast Thursday that Israeli officials realized how lopsided the outcome would be. Most stinging of all was the decision by Germany, long one of Israel's most dependable international supporters, to abstain rather than vote against the declaration.

"Germany has historically been one of our staunchest allies in Europe," said a senior Israeli diplomat who agreed to discuss the issue on condition of anonymity. "It was truly a shock they would abstain."

Perhaps no two countries have a more tangled history than Germany and Israel, one that was born of the Holocaust, the extermination campaign by Nazi Germany that claimed the lives of at least 6 million Jews and prompted the flood of Jewish immigration from the rubble of World War II Europe to what became Israel.

In the decades since, Germany has paid more than $32 billion in war reparations to Israel or Israelis. Last year, Germany voted "no" on Palestine's successful bid to join UNESCO, the U.N.'s cultural body.

Despite that history, there were signs in the past year that the German government had grown impatient with the stance of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Jewish settlements in the West Bank. That finally was what drove Germany's decision not to object to declaring Palestine an observer state, a German diplomat said at a background briefing in Jerusalem, the conditions for which required that he not be identified.

"Not only has Israel refused to consider even a partial freeze of the settlements to appease the Palestinians, they have refused to even discuss the issue," the diplomat said. "Our decision at the U.N. was based on the widespread feeling that Israel had failed to make real steps toward peace, and that they had made a mockery of our past support."

The impact of that decision was immediate. Once Germany had declared itself as abstaining ahead of the vote, one European country after another announced it would either vote for the Palestinian bid or abstain.

When the final tally was announced, only nine countries opposed the designation: Israel, Canada, the Czech Republic, Panama, the United States, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru and Palau. Voting in favor were 138 countries, with 41, including Germany, abstaining.

France, Spain, Italy and Greece voted in favor of the declaration.

"It was a slap in the face. A wake-up slap in the face — we hope," said another senior Israeli diplomat. He asked to be quoted anonymously because Israeli officials had been ordered not to discuss what he termed "a stunning defeat."

"None of our predictions expected such low numbers for us," said the senior Israeli diplomat.

Israel appeared unchastened by the outcome. On Friday, Israeli news outlets reported the government was pushing forward with the development of Jewish settlements in contentious areas east of Jerusalem and the West Bank.

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