Abbas Presses Bid for UN Membership

Abbas Presses Bid for UN Membership

Published: September 21, 2011 (Issue # 1675)

Nassar Shiyoukhi / AP

A Palestinian vegetable vendor rides a horsecart past a banner in Hebron supporting the country’s bid for statehood.

UNITED NATIONS — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was pressing ahead Tuesday with his diplomatic campaign to gain full UN membership, as the divisive issue of Palestinian statehood takes center stage ahead of the opening of the UN General Assembly session.

Abbas had meetings scheduled with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, among leaders, as he sought to line up support ahead of his speech Friday to the General Assembly when the Palestinians vow to submit a letter formally requesting UN membership.

Envoys of the Quartet of Mideast mediators — the U.S., the UN, the European Union and Russia — planned to meet again Tuesday in an effort to avert a showdown over Palestinian statehood by crafting a way forward that would be enough to persuade the Palestinians to drop their bid and have enough caveats for Israel to get its support.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, in New York on Tuesday for high-level meetings, told Europe-1 radio in Paris that his country is still working to get Mideast peace talks restarted before the United Nations faces a decision over whether to recognize a Palestinian state. “The status quo is untenable,” Juppe said. “The only way to settle the Israeli-Palestinian problem is direct negotiations.”

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, meanwhile, told Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a Sept. 17 letter circulated Tuesday that his country backs the push for Palestinian statehood, and that recognizing it would be “an act of historic justice.”

As the Palestinians edged closer to seeking statehood recognition from the United Nations, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for Abbas to meet with him in New York. The Israel leader said he wanted to resume peace talks, upping the pressure on Abbas and building on the frenzied diplomacy swirling around the Palestinians’ bid.

Regardless, Abbas said he had not been swayed by what he called “tremendous pressure” to drop the bid for UN recognition and instead to resume peace talks with Israel. Senior aides to the Palestinian leader said Abbas was undaunted by threats of punitive measures.

“Abbas says to every one: It’s enough, 20 years of negotiations are more than enough, the world should intervene and end the Israeli occupation as long as the U.S. can’t,” said Mohammed Ishtayeh, an Abbas aide.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said, however, there was still time to find a solution to the diplomatic crisis.

Clinton told reporters in New York that the U.S. is talking with all sides to defuse the standoff, noting that there were still several days to seek a compromise before Abbas’ speech.

She joined Netanyahu in calling for new talks and repeated the U.S. position that the only path to a separate state for Palestinians is through negotiations with Israel.

Nabil Shaath, senior aide to Abbas, told The Associated Press that the Palestinian leader informed U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon during their meeting Monday that he would present him with a letter requesting full membership on Friday, ahead of Abbas’ speech to the General Assembly.

Any candidate for UN membership must submit a letter to the secretary-general stating it is a “peace-loving” state and accepts the UN Charter. Ban is expected to examine the Palestinian letter and then send it to the 15-member UN Security Council, which must give its approval before a vote in the larger General Assembly.

Ishtayeh said the letter will state: “Palestine is a peace-loving state and has contributed to human civilization, that it has succeeded in building state institutions.” It would also cite the need to consider the pre-1967 Mideast War borders as those of the Palestinian state, he said.

Although any submission by the Palestinians could wait weeks or months for UN action, it has sparked a flurry of diplomatic activity with Mideast mediators scrambling to find a way to draw the sides back to the negotiating table.

Shaath said last ditch efforts to dissuade the Palestinian president from approaching the Security Council had failed. He said Palestinians had been threatened with harsh punitive measures but had decided to move ahead nonetheless.

The comment appeared to refer to the warnings by some in the U.S. Congress that current and future financial aid to the Palestinian Authority could be in jeopardy if they move ahead with the membership bid. The U.S. gives some $500 million a year in aid to the Palestinians.

Israel has not said how it would respond to a Palestinian declaration of independence, though hardliners in Netanyahu’s government have called for a variety of measures, including annexing the West Bank or withholding tax funds that Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinians.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said that by going to the U.N., the Palestinians are violating “the spirit and the word of signed commitments” that pledged to resolve disagreements through negotiations. “Israel reserves the right to respond,” he said Tuesday, refusing to elaborate.

Each side in on-again-off-again Israeli-Palestinian talks has accused the other of being an untrustworthy and intransigent participant in the peace process.

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