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Middle East

Diplomats race to avert clash over Palestinian UN bid


Latest update : 2011-09-21

World leaders were working frantically to head off a diplomatic train wreck Wednesday, with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas still intent on submitting a formal application for statehood on Friday.

AFP - The Palestinians were coming under mounting pressure to drop a bid for UN membership of a Palestinian state as diplomats worked frantically behind the scenes to head off a looming clash.

Both the United States and the Europeans appeared to be working to buy more time, with Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas determined to press ahead with plans to submit a formal application to UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Friday.

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanhayu

US President Barack Obama was to meet Abbas on Wednesday, just hours after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a US official said.

"With both the Israelis and also the Palestinians, the president will be able to say, very directly, why he believes that an action at the United Nations is not a way to achieve a Palestinian state," national security advisor Ben Rhodes said.

"President Abbas has indicated his intent to go to the Security Council, President Obama has been clear that we do not believe that that will lead to a Palestinian state.

"The second point though, what we're focused on is having a basis for direct negotiations to achieve a Palestinian state," he added.

Obama has already called for negotiations to resume using the 1967 borders -- before the Six-Day war -- as a starting point for the contours of an eventual Palestinian state.

European diplomats and the Middle East Quartet -- comprising the EU, the US, the UN and Russia -- were all seeking to head off the confrontation.

Sources close to the negotiations, that asked to remain anonymous, said a focus was on trying to buy time to allow a broader path towards resuming the direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks which have stalled since September 2010.

Roughly 100 nations already recognise Palestine as a “free and independent state”. Many of the countries recognising a Palestinian state refer to pre-1967 borders, while others don’t specify. Most of these nations, like Russia, China, Algeria, Morocco, and Egypt, announced their recognition following the Palestinian National Council’s unilateral declaration of statehood in 1988.

The most recent countries to have announced their recognition of a Palestinian state are Uruguay, Honduras, and El Salvador, who followed in the footsteps of numerous South American countries, like Brazil and Argentina.

Europe remains more divided. Only Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Malta, Poland, and Romania have recognised a Palestinian state.

One possibility was that Ban does not hand over Abbas's letter straight away to the Security Council, one European source told AFP, adding there were other "diplomatic airbags" that could be used to defuse tensions.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who met Tuesday with Abbas, was also expected to unveil a breakthrough during his speech to the opening of the UN assembly in Wednesday, French sources told AFP.

Abbas held a whirlwind of talks Tuesday in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly which opens Wednesday.

"Intense diplomacy to prevent a diplomatic train crash on Middle East peace. We must find a way forward for everyone," Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said in a message on Twitter.

Several diplomats confirmed the aim was to find a plan that would satisfy both sides, while also avoiding an escalation of violence in the volatile region.

The Palestinians need to secure nine votes out of the 15 Security Council members for its bid for UN statehood to pass the initial stages. Moscow would "certainly" support the Palestinian's bid, Russia's deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogfanov declared Tuesday in New York.

European nations are working behind the scenes to try to avert the confrontation, with the Middle East Quartet also seeking to draw up a statement that would coax Israel and the Palestinians back to talks.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was also meeting late Tuesday with an African nation, one of the 10 non-permanent members of the Security Council.

Clinton met Monday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to discuss the Quartet statement. But British Foreign Secretary William Hague, who met Abbas Tuesday, said "no progress" had yet been made on drafting it.

In a letter to Britain's shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander, Hague said he was working to find a way forward and "create the strongest possible foundation for a return to negotiations."

But former US president Bill Clinton told CNN: "There is a widespread feeling in the world that the current Israeli government may have abandoned the intention of working with the Palestinians to create a state on the West Bank in Gaza and just doesn't want to say it."

The Palestinians however have been buoyed by about 120 countries that have already bilaterally recognized a state of Palestine or backed such a position.

If the Palestinians fail to win over nine of the 15 Security Council members, any resolution would fail, saving Obama from an embarrassing US veto.

Another option could then be for the UN General Assembly to welcome the Palestinians as an enhanced observer non-member state, a status so far enjoyed only by the Vatican.


Date created : 2011-09-21


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