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Abbas to move on UN membership bid in September

By Mohammed Daraghmeh
Associated Press / August 4, 2012
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RAMALLAH, West Bank—Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will take a first procedural step toward seeking U.N. recognition of a state of Palestine when he addresses the General Assembly in late September, but has not decided when to ask for a vote on his request, the Palestinian foreign minister said Saturday.

Timing is seen as crucial in the Palestinian bid to be recognized as a non-member observer state by the U.N. General Assembly, an upgrade they hope will firmly establish the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, captured by Israel in 1967, as Palestinian territories in the eyes of the world.

Some Abbas aides are pushing for quick action, while Abbas is said to be leaning toward waiting until after the U.S. presidential election in November. An earlier Palestinian U.N. bid could add unwelcome complications to President Barack Obama's re-election efforts.

Palestinian officials have not taken sides publicly in the U.S. presidential race. Although they have expressed disappointment over what they perceive as Obama's failure to pressure Israel, they hope that -- if re-elected -- he will be more decisive in seeking a Mideast deal and freed from some of the domestic political shackles that hinder first-term presidents.

The United States and Israel oppose the Palestinian bid and could take possible punitive steps.

Abbas will address the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 27, and then file the application for observer state recognition with the world body, said Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki.

"The application will be deposited and then we will be in touch with the members of the General Assembly, consulting with them on the proper timing for applying," the minister added.

Such a two-step approach gives Abbas flexibility, including the option of playing for time, while satisfying those at home who are eager for a diplomatic initiative.

The United States and Israel argue that a Palestinian state can only be established in negotiations with Israel. However, Israeli-Palestinian talks broke down in 2008, with Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu now deeply at odds over the terms for restarting them. The Palestinians say U.N. recognition is meant to give them more leverage vis-a-vis Israel and not to replace negotiations.

A Palestinian bid last year for full U.N. membership ran aground in the U.N. Security Council because of lack of support. However, the Palestinians expect an overwhelming majority at the General Assembly, which can grant a lesser status of non-member observer state.

This weekend, the Palestinians expect a diplomatic boost, with the arrival in the West Bank city of Ramallah of top officials representing 11 countries in the Non-Aligned Movement, a grouping of mostly Asian, African and Latin American countries. The movement has 120 members, or nearly two-thirds of the states represented in the General Assembly. Palestinian officials say they expect most non-aligned countries to back them.

The officials are part of the Non-Aligned Movement's Palestine Committee and are to issue a declaration in support of a U.N. upgrade for "Palestine" during a two-day meeting that begins Sunday, said Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki.

The countries sending top officials are Indonesia, South Africa, Malaysia, Egypt, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Senegal, Colombia, India, Cuba and Bangladesh. Six of these countries, including Egypt, are sending foreign ministers, Malki said. In the group, Indonesia, Cuba, Malaysia and Bangladesh don't have ties with Israel.

Israel controls all crossings in and out of the West Bank, and Malki said Israel has not yet given final approval for the transit of the foreign dignitaries. Israeli Foreign Ministry officials were not immediately available for comment on the Jewish Sabbath.

Malki said the heads of each delegation are to fly to the West Bank in Jordanian helicopters, while other delegation members are to enter the West Bank by land, through an Israeli-controlled border crossing. He said Algeria, also a member of the Palestine Committee, decided not to attend the gathering because it has no ties with Israel and does not want its officials to go through Israeli crossings.

Jordan, though not a member of the Palestine Committee, is sending its foreign minister, he said.

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