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Middle East

Abbas unyielding on Palestinian UN bid

Video by Karen CREED


Latest update : 2011-09-22

Despite US President Barack Obama's stern warning that there is no "shortcut" to peace in the Middle East, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has given no sign he plans to abandon a bid for full UN membership, scheduled on Friday.

AFP - Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas remained on course for a clash with the United States over his bid for UN recognition despite President Barack Obama's warnings there is no "shortcut" to peace.

Hopes remained that a statement by the international powers could bring Palestinians and Israelis back to direct talks, but a hard-hitting speech by Obama and a personal meeting with Abbas failed to sway the Palestinian leader from a vow to make an application for membership on Friday.

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy launched his own bid to ease tensions by calling for the Palestinians to get observer state membership of the UN as a prelude to new talks.

The United States has vowed to veto any request by the UN Security Council for backing for membership, potentially sparking a new Middle East crisis. Tens of thousands of Palestinians took part in rallies to back Abbas on Thursday.

But Israel and the United States insist that only direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations can set up a peace deal that could lead to the creation of a new state.

"I am convinced that there is no shortcut to the end of a conflict that has endured for decades," Obama told the UN General Assembly.

He did not mention the US threat to veto the issue at the Security Council, but said: "Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the UN -- if it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now."

Obama insisted the Israelis and Palestinians must sit down to "reach agreement on the issues that divide them: on borders and security; on refugees and Jerusalem."

For Obama, the confrontation is an embarrassment as 12 months ago he stood at the UN assembly and called for Palestinian membership of the United Nations within a year.

Obama said he believed then and now "that the Palestinian people deserve a state of their own." But he added Israel must also have cast-iron security guarantees because of the threat from "neighbors that have waged repeated wars against it."

He later met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who said he deserved a "badge of honor" for his defense of the Jewish state. The meeting with Abbas brought no change in the position of either side, officials said.

France's Sarkozy told the General Assembly it was unrealistic for the Palestinians to expect immediate full UN membership. But he added that there was a risk of a "cycle of violence in the Middle East" coming out of any US veto.

He proposed observer state status at the UN for the Palestinians as an intermediate step toward full membership.

He also set out a timetable for new Israel-Palestinian talks which said negotiations should resume within a month and there should be a definitive accord within a year.

The diplomatic Quartet -- the United States, Russia, European Union and United Nations -- has been pressing a virtually identical plan with the Palestinians and Israelis in recent weeks.

Former British prime minister Tony Blair -- the Quartet's special envoy -- is trying to get the group's members, as well as the Palestinians and Israelis, to agree a statement on these lines which could kick-start talks which have been frozen for the past 12 months, diplomats said.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said any Security Council vote on the Palestinians would take weeks, giving diplomats time to work on the proposals.

Abbas will give "some time to the Security Council to consider first our full membership request before heading to the General Assembly," Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath told reporters.

The Palestinians have said that if there is a US veto at the Security Council, it will go to the UN General Assembly to seek an elevated observer status, similar to the one given to the Vatican.

If the Palestinian resolution does not get at least nine votes on the 15-member Security Council, the motion would fail and no veto would be necessary.

A General Assembly vote would only require a simple majority and no veto is possible. Israel fears that even a super-observer status would give the Palestinians the right to join the International Criminal Court and make complaints about Israel.

The proposal outline by Sarkozy also called on the Palestinians not to go to the court while talks are being held.

Date created : 2011-09-22


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