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News, September 2011
Abbas Tells Ki-Moon of Submitting UN Membership Letter on Friday, September 23, 2011
Wafa news agency reported that President Mahmoud Abbas met with the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, and told him that he is going to submit the Palestinian UN membership letter next Friday, September 23, 2011, without paying attention to the intensive US-Israeli efforts to dissuade him of doing that.
Abbas presses Palestinian U.N. bid despite warnings
By Ali Sawafta, Mon Sep 19, 2011 3:55pm EDT
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -
President Mahmoud Abbas told the United Nations' top official on Monday he would seek full U.N. membership for a Palestinian state, a move the United States and Israel warn could lead to disaster and shatter chances for resuming peace negotiations.
Abbas told U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon he would press ahead with plans to ask on Friday for a Security Council vote on Palestinian membership. Washington has threatened to veto any such move.
Ban told Abbas he would perform his duties for any application submitted, and called for the Israelis and the Palestinians to resume talks "within a legitimate and balanced framework," U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said.
The Palestinian crisis has overshadowed this week's meeting of the U.N. General Assembly and sparked hectic last-minute talks aimed at averting a confrontation which carries risks for the Palestinians, Israel and the United States.
Abbas, speaking to reporters on his plane en route to New York, acknowledged it could have repercussions for his Palestinian Authority, the fragile government-in-waiting which depends on international financial aid for its survival in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
"We decided to take this step and all hell has broken out against us," he said, adding that he would not be swayed.
"From now until I give the speech, we have only one choice: going to the Security Council. Afterwards, we will sit and decide," he said.
The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama, who had sought to use the "Arab Spring" uprisings to recast U.S. ties with the Arab world, has vowed to veto a statehood resolution. It says only a resumption of a two-decade-old negotiation process can bring lasting peace between the two sides.
Some U.S. lawmakers say they will try to cut the some $500 million in U.S. aid per year to the Palestinians if they refuse to back down.
The Palestinian Authority's central bank chief, Jihad al-Wazir, warned that this could spell the end of the Palestinians' current efforts at self-government.
"Really, the risk of PA collapse is very real under the financial strain," he told Reuters.
With virtually no hope of success in the Security Council, the Palestinians could also ask the U.N. General Assembly to upgrade their standing from an "entity" to "a non-member state" -- a move they believe is likely to pass with support from at least 126 members of the 193-member body.
Abbas was also due to meet on Monday with French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, who warned that both Israel and the Palestinians were courting disaster.
"The only solution is to resume talks," Juppe said in remarks at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague, who was due to meet Abbas on Tuesday, said the Palestinians had no hope of winning approval on the Security Council in a vote that could leave members of the European Union on opposing sides.
"It's not clear how many of the members of the Security Council would support it but it would leave no one any further forward," Hague said, adding that all sides were pressing for talks "to allow a Palestinian state truly to come into being."
A U.S. Security Council veto would carry diplomatic risks for Washington, which could find itself isolated alongside its longtime ally Israel during a period of unprecedented political turmoil across the Middle East.
It would also likely boost tensions between the Palestinians and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government, which has already seen traditionally steady ties with key neighbors Egypt and Turkey deteriorate quickly.
Senior diplomats from the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations -- the so-called Quartet of Middle East mediators -- were expected to meet throughout the week in hopes of finding a way forward.
The Quartet has for months been trying to put together guidelines for future peace talks, but Abbas has said they have offered nothing new.
The last round of the U.S.-backed talks between Abbas and Netanyahu collapsed nearly a year ago. The Palestinians pulled out after Israel declined to extend a partial moratorium on settlement building in the West Bank on land occupied in the 1967 war which the Palestinians want for their state.
Apart from borders, key points of contention include the status of Jerusalem, the future of Palestinian refugees and whether Israel should be acknowledged as a Jewish state.
The Palestinians say they will not resume talks unless the moratorium is reinstated. Israel says talks should resume without preconditions but that it accepts the idea that the Palestinians should ultimately have their own state.
Palestinians will submit UN membership letter
By TAREK EL-TABLAWY Associated Press
Sep 19, 2011, 4:55 PM EDT
The Palestinians brushed aside heated Israeli objections and a promised U.S. veto, vowing Monday to submit a letter requesting full U.N. membership before their president, Mahmoud Abbas, addresses the General Assembly at week's end.
Amid frenzied global diplomacy, Abbas said he had not been swayed by what he called "tremendous pressure" to drop the bid for United Nations recognition and resume peace negotiations with Israel instead.
Separately, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on Abbas to meet with him for talks, marking yet another effort to curtail the Palestinians' bid for membership.
Abbas will present the letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday, ahead of the Palestinian leader's speech to the General Assembly, according to senior Abbas aide Nabil Shaath.
Although any submission by the Palestinians will mean a wait of weeks or months for the U.N. action, it has sparked diplomatic activity with Mideast mediators scrambling to find a way to draw the two sides back to the negotiating table.
The Palestinians' bid at the U.N. is the first step to statehood for Palestinians who have for decades complained of being guests in their own land.
Shaath said the secretary-general promised to "speed up the discussion of the request."
Shaath said last ditch efforts to dissuade Abbas from approaching the Security Council had failed as because the offers had fallen short of Palestinian aspirations, and added that some parties had threatened the Palestinians with harsh punitive measures but that they had decided to move ahead nonetheless.
The comment appeared to reflect 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.
"We do not seek a confrontation with the United States," Shaath said. "We have no desire to confront the U.S."
Each side in the on-again, off-again Israeli-Palestinian talks have 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."
Ban must receive the letter from Abbas and approve it before it moves forward in the arduous and complicated process for a new member.
Ban "reiterated his support for the two-state solution and stressed his desire to ensure that the international community and the two parties can find a way forward for resuming negotiations within a legitimate and balanced framework," U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said after the secretary-general met with Abbas on Monday.
The comment underscored the desires of the Quartet of Mideast mediators - the U.S., the U.N., the European Union and Russia - that Palestinian statehood should not be granted before a resumption of peace talks.
The long-stalled negotiations have been unable to solve key issues Israeli settlement building in the West Bank and the status of east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as their capital.
Despite Palestinian plans, a White House official said the situation remained fluid, noting that Abbas had still not formally filed the membership letter. The official said the U.S. was moving forward with talks with Quartet members and other partners. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the matter.
Any candidate for U.N. membership must submit a letter to the secretary-general stating it is a "peace-loving" state and accepts the U.N. Charter. Ban is expected to examine the Palestinian letter and send it to the 15-member U.N. Security Council, which must give its approval before a vote is held in the larger General Assembly.
The U.S. has already said it would use its veto in the Security Council, thereby blocking that course for the Palestinians before they even submit the request.
Alternatively, the Palestinians could seek the approval of the majority of the General Assembly's 193 member states for observer status - a designation that would give leave them with a symbolic victory despite years of failed negotiations and waning hopes for statehood.
In either scenario, the Palestinians will have to show they have the power to force action on the issue at a time when Israel is feeling increasingly isolated in the region.
Israel's relations with regional allies Turkey, Egypt and Jordan have soured, while resentment against the Jewish state is on the upswing amid a wave of uprisings in the Arab world. Those revolutions have led to the ouster of the former leaders of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
Israel's embassy in Cairo was stormed by protesters last week - an incident that severely strained relations between the two neighbors who signed a peace treaty more than three decades ago.
Reflecting the volatility of Mideast politics and the heat generated b0y the Palestinian bid for statehood, a senior U.S. official said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with her Turkish counterpart and "encouraged" him to repair ties with Israel. She sought a positive role by Ankara in resolving the Palestinian issue that was "looming large" over the General Assembly that opens Wednesday.
A second senior U.S. official added that Washington was particularly concerned about frayed Turkey-Israel ties because the Palestinian confrontation has raised the stakes for further confrontation.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because Clinton's meetings were private.
For Washington, the Palestinian push also reflected a potential challenge to perceptions of the U.S. in the Mideast. The regional revolts have stoked increasing discomfort with the U.S. by the Arab masses, despite Washington's support for the uprisings in Egypt and Libya and its condemnation of the brutal crackdowns in Syria and Yemen.
If the U.S. follows through on pledges to veto the Palestinian bid, Washington was in danger of further alienating the Arab world by backing Israel at the expense of impoverished and stateless Palestinians. The perennial complaint might resonate even louder as Arabs feel increasingly empowered after successfully challenging entrenched regimes.
The U.S. and other Quartet members were slated to meet again later Monday, officials said, and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton might present more ideas to Abbas later in the day. The Quartet members were trying to find some framework that both sides could accept for a resumption of negotiations.
Past efforts have fallen apart amid acrimony and name-calling.
The Palestinians argue that Netanyahu's vision of peace is starkly different than theirs, and that a two-state option which he would support fails to reflect key demands for halting Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank and recognition of east Jerusalem as the capital of the new state. Netanyahu has said the Palestinians are the ones who are unwilling to seriously enter negotiations.
The Palestinians want their state to include the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem - lands captured by Israel during the 1967 Mideast war. Abbas insists that Israel agree to return to the borders that existed before that war.
Associated Press writers Karin Laub in Ramallah, West Bank; Matthew Lee and Bradley Klapper in New York; Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations; Diaa Hadid in Jerusalem; and Julie Pace in Washington contributed reporting.
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