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UN will be asked to grant membership to a Palestine state

US is opposed; Abbas calls talks with Israel crucial

By Ethan Bronner
New York Times / September 6, 2011

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RAMALLAH, West Bank - President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority said yesterday that he was going to the United Nations this month to seek membership for a state of Palestine, not instead of negotiations with Israel but in addition to them.

His goal, he said, was for a Palestinian state and Israel to live in peace and security next to each other.

Even after any UN recognition, he said, his hope is to negotiate with Israel.

“Our first, second, and third priority is negotiations,’’ he said. “There is no other way to solve this. No matter what happens at the United Nations, we have to return to negotiations.’’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said at a separate event that a Palestinian bid for UN recognition would “set back peace, and might set it back for years.’’ Israeli officials argue that a resolution recognizing a Palestinian state could complicate the prospect of talks beyond salvation.

Each side says it wants direct talks and peace but that the other side does not.

Abbas was speaking in his office to 20 left-wing Israeli intellectuals and artists who had come to urge him to go to the United Nations, despite their government’s opposition.

Journalists were invited to cover the meeting.

He told the group he had met abroad secretly three times in recent months with Israel’s president, Shimon Peres, in London, Rome, and Amman, Jordan. A fourth meeting was called off by Peres. Abbas said he also held a previously undisclosed meeting with Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, 10 days ago.

“We have exhausted all opportunities, so we have to go to the UN,’’ he said.

For his part, Netanyahu said direct negotiations were the only option. Speaking after a meeting in Jerusalem with Prime Minister Yves Leterme of Belgium, Netanyahu said, “Unfortunately, for over 2 1/2 years the Palestinians have done pretty much everything in their power to avoid such direct negotiations.’’

The United States is strongly opposed to a Palestinian bid for UN membership. Senior US officials are due here this week to try to persuade the Palestinians to drop their effort. Palestinian officials say it is too late.

Abbas said that for direct talks to begin, Israel should carry out a short-term freeze in settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as well as agree that the basis of the talks would be the borders drawn in 1967. Netanyahu rejects the settlement freeze and calls on the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, which the Palestinians reject.

Abbas said the Palestinians planned to start their UN membership drive with the Security Council, despite a vow by the Obama administration to exercise its veto there. It is widely expected the Palestinians’ next step would be in the General Assembly, where there is no veto, but which can grant observer status to a state, not full membership.

He offered an impassioned defense of his approach.

“Some Israelis complain that this is a unilateral move, but when you address 193 countries, that is not unilateral,’’ he said. “We are going to complain that as Palestinians we have been under occupation for 63 years.

“We don’t want to isolate Israel but to live with it in peace and security,’’ he said. “We don’t want to delegitimize Israel. We want to legitimize ourselves.’’

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