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Palestinians set to formally seek UN membership

Israeli leader also asks Abbas to meet in NYC

By Mohammed Daraghmeh
Associated Press / September 20, 2011

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UNITED NATIONS - The Palestinians brushed aside heated Israeli objections and a promised US veto yesterday, vowing to submit a letter formally requesting full UN membership when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the General Assembly.

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 Israeli 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 United Nations recognition and instead to resume peace talks with Israel. Senior aides to the Palestinian leader said Abbas was undaunted by threats of punitive measures.

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 United States is talking with all sides to defuse the standoff, noting that the week was young and there were still several days to seek compromise.

Nabil Shaath, senior aide to Abbas, said the Palestinian leader informed UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon during their meeting yesterday that he would present him with a letter requesting full membership on Friday, ahead of Abbas’s speech to the General Assembly.

Shaath said the secretary-general promised to “speed up the discussion of the request.’’

Shaath said last ditch efforts to dissuade the Palestinian president from approaching the Security Council had failed and that offers had fallen short of Palestinian aspirations. He said Palestinians had been threatened with harsh punitive measures but that they had decided to move ahead nonetheless.

The comment appeared to reflect the warnings by some in Congress that current and future financial aid to the Palestinian Authority could be in jeopardy if they move ahead with the membership bid.

The push at the world body is the first step to statehood for Palestinians who have for decades complained of being guests in their own land. Although any submission by the Palestinians could wait weeks or months for the UN action, it has sparked a flurry of diplomatic activity with Mideast mediators scrambling to find a way to draw the two sides back to a negotiating table.

Each side in the Israeli-Palestinian talks has accused the other of being untrustworthy and intransigent participants in the peace process.

In a statement, Netanyahu called on Abbas to begin “direct negotiations in New York and continue them in Jerusalem and Ramallah.’’ But the statement provided no other details or indications that Netanyahu was willing to cede to any of the Palestinians’ demands.

The quartet of Mideast mediators - the United States, the UN, the European Union, and Russia - has said that Palestinian statehood should not be granted before a resumption of peace talks. The long-stalled negotiations have been unable to solve the key issues of Israeli settlement building in the West Bank and the status of east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as their capital.

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.

By already promising a veto in the Security Council, the United States has blocked that course for the Palestinians before they submit the request.

Alternatively, the Palestinians could seek approval of the majority of the General Assembly’s 193 member states for observer status.

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