Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has announced that the Palestinian Authority will present its bid for non-state UN membership, despite US and Israeli opposition.
Following talks with Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi in Cairo, “it has been agreed that the request will be presented on November 29,” Abbas told reporters on Monday, calling for support from Arab states.
US President Barack Obama told Abbas in a telephone conversation on Sunday that his administration opposes the Palestinian UN initiative, and Israeli officials have threatened punitive measures if the Palestinians go ahead with the bid.
“We don’t want any confrontations with the United States or Israel. If we could start a dialogue or negotiations the day after the vote, we will,” the Palestinian leader said.
“We know we are a country under occupation, but we want our land which was occupied in 1967, including Jerusalem. Israel says Palestinian lands are disputed and open to negotiation, and is hurrying to build settlements, covering Jerusalem with settlements,” Abbas said.
He met earlier on Monday in Riyadh with Saudi King Abdullah, before travelling to Cairo for an Arab League meeting.
“President Abbas will attend the Assembly General session for the vote,” his spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeina, told AFP.
The announcement came amid heightened tit-for-tat attacks between the Israeli army and the Palestinians, with Israel’s military top brass weighing a stronger response to rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli airforce launched three raids on targets in the Gaza Strip early Tuesday which hit an uninhabited area to the west of Gaza City, without causing any casualties, Palestinian security sources and witnesses said.
The air raids came hours after Gaza militants on Monday fired six rockets at southern Israel, one of which exploded next to a house.
The number of rockets fired on Monday represented a significant drop from a day earlier, when dozens of missiles crashed into southern Israel, prompting Israel to stage a series of overnight raids.
But it was unclear if the slowdown was a step towards a more decisive truce, or a lull.
Israel’s top military officials were said to be weighing whether to launch a stronger response to the flare-up, and Defence Minister Ehud Barak warned that efforts to stamp out rocket fire would intensify.
“These are very important days.. in light of the ongoing activity against Hamas and terror organisations in Gaza, which is likely to intensify and expand,” he said, quoted by his office.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, touring southern Israel with foreign diplomats, warned that “the world must understand that Israel has the complete right and the obligation to protect its citizens.”
Israeli officials have threatened punitive measures if the Palestinian initiative goes ahead, with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman pledging to “ensure the collapse” of Abbas’s Western-backed Palestinian Authority (PA).
Palestinian negotiator Mohammed Shtayeh told a news conference in the West Bank town of Ramallah that he believed any response would be relatively limited.
“I think that most of these measures that have been declared will be empty threats,” he said.
“Israel has a vested interest in maintaining the status of the Palestinian Authority as it stands today and I don’t think that the Israelis are in a position to push this Palestinian Authority to a total collapse.”
He added the Arab League had promised the PA a financial safety net in the event of punitive Israeli sanctions.
Another Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erakat, told official Voice of Palestine radio that PA officials were working to have the League pledge implemented.
“We are trying to activate the decision related to the Arab safety network, valued at $100 million monthly, in case Israel blocks our money and the US closes the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organisation) office and halts aid,” he said.
Erakat said “Obama did not utter any threats but there are threats from the Congress, which has a draft bill, according to which it would demand closing the PLO office in Washington and cutting off aid” if the UN bid goes ahead.