Abbas - AP - Oct. 29, 2010
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, left, at a joint press conference with PA President Mahmoud Abbas yesterday in Ramallah. Photo by AP
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Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) announced yesterday that the Palestinians may ask the United States to articulate its support for the establishment of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. Failing that goal, Palestinians would approach the United Nations Security Council to ask that it recognize a Palestinian state within a few months, Abbas said.

Abbas spoke at the conclusion of a visit to Ramallah of Egypt's intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, and its foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit. Gheit told reporters that the Arab world supported the Palestinian demand for a complete moratorium on Israeli construction.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently reiterated to the U.S. and to key states in the European Union that Israel expects them to clarify to the Palestinians that a unilateral move in the UN was unacceptable and would not result in the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Netanyahu said that any attempt to bypass direct talks by approaching international organizations would not promote the peace process, which, he said, should resume without any preconditions set by the Palestinians. The U.S. administration also remains opposed to the Palestinian initiative at the Security Council.

Abbas' comments appeared to testify to the sheer force of the political deadlock and to the failure of another Egyptian mediation attempt. The Egyptian move came in response to an appeal made by Netanyahu to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, delivered to the president through National Security Advisor Uzi Arad, who visited Cairo on Tuesday. Netanyahu asked the Egyptians to pressure Abbas to ease his conditions on the settlement construction freeze. President Shimon Peres called Mubarak with a similar message on Netanyahu's request on the same day.

The prime minister himself remains undecided on the construction freeze, sending conflicting messages to various members of his cabinet. Netanyahu told some ministers that he would not agree to renew the freeze, but to others he said he would agree on some conditions. Netanyahu also confided in the latter group of ministers that he is interested in a long-term solution that would allow at least a year of negotiations, without the need to attend to settlement-related issues every few months.

Netanyahu envoy Yitzhak Molcho held a round of talks in Washington this week, but all have ended without progress on the settlement freeze. "We keep running in one place," one senior American official informed of the details of the talks told Haaretz. Another official appeared only a shade more optimistic. "We're still working on a solution, but so far without results," he said.

Observers report great frustration with Netanyahu in the American administration, especially after his rejection of an offer of diplomatic and security guarantees in exchange for extending the freeze. Senior administration officials believe Netanyahu is dragging his feet and is mired in petty politics.

President Barack Obama is expected to renew his focus in the Middle East process in late November, when a major review of the process may take place. Special envoy George Mitchell may leave his post in such a scenario, and former ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk is considered a possible replacement. Another scenario is that the Americans would present the parties with a peace initiative of their own, intended to serve as a basis for the process. "There's a real fear an American peace plan may be introduced and forced on Israel," a senior Israeli official told Haaretz.

On Wednesday, Netanyahu met with two prominent American-Jewish figures, businessman and peace activist Daniel Abraham and former Congressman Robert Wexler, who chairs Abaraham's Center for Middle East Peace.

The main message to Netanyahu was that Obama is resolved to proceed with the negotiations and will continue to address the issue after the mid-term elections.

Abraham is seen as close to former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, President Shimon Peres and the Clintons, while Wexler is one of President Obama's earliest supporters in the Democratic Party. A source who spoke to the two guests told Haaretz they arrived in Israel to suggest ways out of the impasse. Although not formally sent by anyone in the administration, they received administration briefings prior to the trip and updated the White House and the State Department after nearly every meeting, the source said. Wexler and Abraham also met with Peres and Abbas.