Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu look set for a UN showdown next week, with Abbas planning to push for membership for a Palestinian state and Netanyahu arguing against it.
“Despite the pressures that we face, Palestine goes to the UN on the 23rd of this month to seek admission as a full member,” Abbas told Egyptian TV on Wednesday.
On Thursday, Netanyahu announced that he, too, would address the United Nations to set out Israel’s objections to the manoeuvre.
“The approach to the United Nations to seek full membership for the state of Palestine is a done deal and irreversible,” Abbas said, following discussions with the diplomatic Quartet’s envoy Tony Blair.
But the United States has threatened to veto the move if it is made in the UN Security Council, saying it would harm prospects for peace talks and that a Palestinian state can only result from negotiations with Israel.
“It doesn’t bring the two sides closer together. It would not bring the Palestinians any closer to statehood, and we believe that it would be counterproductive to that goal,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney Thursday.
“Our approach is one that we think is in the interests of helping the Palestinians reach their ultimate goal, and the only way they’re going to reach that goal is through direct negotiations with the Israelis.”
Meanwhile, the Palestinian envoy to the UN said the Palestinian leadership has not yet decided whether to seek full membership.
“We will take all these issues for further discussion and deliberations by the Palestinian leadership and a final decision will be taken in the next few days as to which path we will follow,” Riyad Mansour told reporters.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon called on Palestinians to return to talks with Israel and said the peace deadlock is harming the whole Middle East.
“I am asking them to enter into meaningful negotiations and the international community has a duty to create some conditions favorable to this,” Ban told a news conference at the United Nations.
He said Israel’s approval of permits for new settlements in the occupied territories “has not been helpful.”
“At the same time, Palestinians should also try to sit together with Israeli people.”
Envoys from the United States, the European Union and the Quartet are holding talks with Palestinian and Israeli leaders in an effort to get them back into direct peace talks that stalled a year ago.
“We will see if any of them is carrying a credible offer that will allow us to look into it seriously,” Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Malki told foreign journalists in Ramallah on Thursday.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton met Netanyahu on Wednesday and Thursday after talks with Abbas in Egypt. US envoys Dennis Ross and David Hale met Abbas in Ramallah Thursday evening.
Hale and Ross “as well as other Quartet envoys are going to meet again in New York on Sunday and remain in touch,” State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner told reporters in Washington.
“We are open to any suggestions or ideas that could come from any side in order to renew negotiations on a firm basis with clear terms of reference, a clear timetable and clear guarantees,” Malki said.
“So far we see no proposal that requires that we look seriously,” he added. “The meeting yesterday with Tony Blair brought about nothing new.”
The Palestinian bid is strongly opposed by both Israel and the United States who say the only route to a Palestinian state is through bilateral talks.
“Israel wants peace, and for the past two-and-a-half years has been attempting to conduct negotiations,” Netanyahu said at a joint news conference with Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas in Jerusalem.
“I decided to bring this message in a speech that I shall make to the General Assembly of the UN to which I shall travel next week,” he said. “I thought that the right thing to do would be to talk to the United Nations, tell them things as they are.
“We know that peace is dependent on recognition and security. These needs arise in light of the recent upheavals in the Middle East, which affect us,” he added.
Previous talks fell apart just weeks after they were launched at the White House last September.
They collapsed after the expiry of an Israeli 10-month freeze on West Bank settlement building, with the Palestinians refusing to negotiate while Israel builds on land they want for a future state.
Palestinian officials say they are not planning on unilaterally declaring a state as they did in Algiers in 1988, nor are they seeking UN recognition for their state, which has already been recognised by 127 countries.
But they want to secure UN membership for a state based on the lines that existed before the 1967 Six Day War, including Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem — as the 194th member state.
The United States has already vowed to veto the move in the Security Council.
With Europe divided on the issue, Ashton has been leading efforts to find a solution which would avoid a showdown but ensure that the Palestinians do not leave New York empty-handed.
In June, she suggested Brussels was seeking some kind of resolution at the General Assembly which could be worded in such a way that it would gain the support of all 27 EU member states.
The Palestinians say their campaign does not rule out a return to peace negotiations, and admission to the UN would put them on a more equitable footing when facing Israel in any future negotiations.
But they insist there will be no further talks unless Israel halts settlement construction and agrees to accept the 1967 borders as the basis for any future negotiations.
Hardline Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned on Wednesday there would be “harsh and grave consequences” if the Palestinians persist with their plan.