Abbas UN - Reuters - September 19, 2011
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (R) meets with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the UN headquarters in New York September 19, 2011. Photo by Reuters
Text size

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Monday that he would push ahead with plans to seek full UN membership for a Palestinian state, a move the United States and Israel say could lead to disaster.

Abbas met Ban at the UN headquarters and reaffirmed that he planned to ask this week for a Security Council vote on Palestinian membership despite the certainty of a US veto, his spokesman Nabil Abu Rdaineh said.

Ban, through whom any application must be made, told Abbas he would "perform his duties under the U.N. charter," and called for the Israelis and the Palestinians to resume negotiations "within a legitimate and balanced framework," UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

Earlier, Abbas said "all hell has broken out" over the statehood bid, and acknowledged it carried risks for his Palestinian Authority, 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 told reporters on his flight to New York, but added 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 United States and Israel wanted to keep the peace process restricted to "a bilateral dialogue" overseen from afar by Washington, he said. But for nearly two decades, or since the Oslo Accords in 1993, this dialogue had failed, prompting the UN membership move.

Abbas has said he will present his application to the Security Council on Friday. With a U.S. veto looming at the Security Council, the Palestinians have said they could also go to the UN General Assembly to request an upgrade in their standing from an "entity" to "a non-member state" -- a move they say is likely to pass with support from at least 126 members of the 193-member body.

Abbas' meeting with Ban was expected to be followed on Monday by a meeting with French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, who warned that both Israel and the Palestinians were courting disaster by clinging to the status quo. "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 said Britain, like other members of the European Union, remained committed to a solution that would see an independent Palestinian state emerge peacefully alongside Israel.

"We ... have withheld our position on how we would vote on any resolution that may come forward in the General Assembly in order to exert as much pressure on both sides to return to negotiations," he told SkyNews in an interview.

The United States says it opposes the Palestinian bid for full UN membership on the grounds that only a resumption of a two-decade old negotiation process can advance the cause of peace. It has also said it would not support a Palestinian vote in the General Assembly.

A U.S. Security Council veto would carry huge diplomatic risks for Washington, which could find itself further isolated alongside Israel as political turmoil sweeps the Middle East and unleashes new fears of instability.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Sunday to discuss Ashton's recent trip to the region, part of a frantic effort to persuade the Palestinians to avoid a showdown.

Senior diplomats from the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations - the so-called Quartet of Middle East mediators - also met on Sunday and were expected to hold further meetings this week.

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 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin 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 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.

U.S. President Barack Obama is under pressure from Congress to back Israel's stance, and some U.S. lawmakers have said they will try to cut American aid, totaling some 500 million dollars a year, if the Palestinians refuse to back down.

Israeli officials, meanwhile, have said the Palestinian move could spur retaliation - which could exacerbate the financial crisis facing the Palestinian Authority because of a shortfall in aid from Arab states.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday he expected that the Palestinian bid to join the United Nations would fail and that this might help them "come to their senses" and rejoin direct peace talks.