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Palestinians confident on UN vote, but veto looms

by Dave Graham and John Irish, Reuters

September 20, 2011 | 10:53 am

A wide view of the Security Council at its meeting on the situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories on Aug. 25. UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz

A wide view of the Security Council at its meeting on the situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories on Aug. 25. UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz

The Palestinian foreign minister said on Tuesday he was confident the U.N. Security Council would vote to recognize Palestinian statehood and urged the United States to reconsider its veto threat as efforts to resolve the impasse appeared deadlocked.

As diplomats scrambled to contain a political crisis looming over this year’s meeting of the U.N. General Assembly, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki said he believed at least nine of the 15 members of the Security Council would endorse the Palestinian move.

“We’re working towards it and I think we’ll manage it,” al-Malki told reporters after meeting his Venezuelan counterpart.

“We hope the United States will revise its position and be on the side of the majority of nations or countries who want to support the Palestinian right to have self determination and independence,” Malki said.

A veto by the United States, one of the five permanent members of the council and a firm ally of Israel, would still block approval even if most other members agree.

But securing the nine votes necessary to claim a Security Council majority would allow the Palestinians to highlight that the U.S. veto is an obstacle, a public relations coup that carries real diplomatic risks for Washington during a period of unprecedented political turmoil in the Middle East.

“I would expect ... that there would be large demonstrations again around Arab capitals in the context of the Arab Spring,” said Marwan Muasher, a former Jordanian foreign minister and now vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment.

“A U.S. veto ... will be seen by the region as once again a double-standard policy of selectively standing by certain people in the region yearning for freedom, but not others,” he told reporters.

NO PROGRESS YET

Senior diplomats from the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations—the Quartet of Middle East mediators—are meeting throughout the week in hopes of a last-minute breakthrough.

The Quartet has for months been trying to put together guidelines for future peace talks, so far without result.

British Foreign Minister William Hague, speaking before a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said on Tuesday there had been no progress.

“There is no progress (within the Quartet) to report as we speak,” he said.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said that even if the Palestinians file their Security Council application on Friday, an immediate vote was unlikely—which could allow more time for diplomacy aimed at restarting peace talks.

“There’s a procedure for dealing with such requests and it can take a few days or weeks more, which means there is room for other initiatives,” Juppe told Europe 1 radio.

“We hope to find a way of convincing all involved to get back around the negotiating table, and in a serious fashion.”

U.S. President Barack Obama is due to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday on the sidelines of the General Assembly meeting. White House officials say Obama has no meeting planned with Abbas, but note that the schedule may still change.

IMPASSE OVER TALKS

Israel, which has called for renewed direct talks with the Palestinians, opposes the U.N. move and says it is aimed at de-legitimizing Israel. The Palestinians say their U.N. bid will open the door to new peace talks among two equals—both of them sovereign states.

Direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians collapsed a year ago after Israel refused to extend a moratorium on new settlements in areas the Palestinians want for a future state.

Israel has occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip since the 1967 Middle East war.

The two sides remain divided on borders, the status of Jerusalem, the future of Palestinian refugees and whether Israel should be acknowledged as a Jewish state.

U.S. officials have repeatedly threatened to veto any Palestinian move at the Security Council, saying instead that the only way forward is to bring the two sides back to the negotiating table.

But Abbas would not be deterred, and told U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday he could ask on Friday for a Security Council vote.

The Palestinians may also ask the U.N. General Assembly to upgrade them from an “entity” to a “non-member state”—a step they believe would be backed by at least 126 members of the 193-member body and give further legitimacy to their claim.

The Palestinian decision to go to the United Nations has raised the prospect that traditional U.S. support for Israel may stoke new Arab anger against the United States, turning back the Obama administration’s effort to harness the “Arab Spring” uprisings to forge a new set of relationships.

Netanyahu’s government is also navigating uncertainly through the new political landscape, and has seen old certainties swept away as tensions rise with the Palestinians and with neighbors such as Egypt and Turkey.

The Palestinians, for their part, could see financing for their struggling government drop if donors such as the United States withhold funds, as some U.S. lawmakers have proposed.

Others, including Saudi Arabia, may yet step in to plug the hole, but Abbas’ Palestinian Authority remains vulnerable and may struggle to deliver on the promise of full statehood for an increasingly restive population.

Additional reporting by Lou Charbonneau, Susan Cornwell, Tom Perry and Alistair Lyon; writing by Andrew Quinn; Editing by Will Dunham

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