Abbas - Ki-moon - AFP - 20092011
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, left, meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York on Monday. Photo by AFP
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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Monday that he was determined to ask the Security Council to accept Palestine as a full UN member. Abbas said he would in fact be seeking full recognition for a Palestinian state and would initiate this on Friday after his speech to the UN General Assembly. The United States and Israel claim this move could lead to a disaster.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that he was interested in meeting Abbas on the sidelines of the UN assembly. "I call on [Abbas] to open direct negotiations already in New York, which would continue in Jerusalem and Ramallah," Netanyahu said in a statement.

"I propose President Abbas start peace talks, instead of wasting time in futile unilateral steps," Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu knows the chances of Abbas' meeting him in New York are slim and his statement is seen as an attempt to portray Abbas as the peace objector, sources said.

Abbas told Ban he intended to submit his request to the secretary general for a Security Council vote on Palestinian membership. The assembly is to begin its official debates tomorrow.

On receiving Abbas' request, Ban will set up a security sub-committee to examine if the Palestinians fill the required criteria for statehood. The committee will write a report recommending whether to receive Palestine as a full member or not and the Security Council members will vote on the report's recommendations.

If they decide to accept Palestine as a member, they will move it to the final vote in the General Assembly, where a two-third majority is required.

The procedure in the Security Council could take a few days, possibly even weeks or months. An Israeli source familiar with UN procedures said the Americans pressed Abbas to go to the Security Council rather than the General Assembly, to enable them to delay the request by means of the sub-committee.

It is not clear what Abbas will do if the Palestinian request is delayed for weeks in the Security Council, or is struck down with an American veto, or fails to muster the required majority in the vote.

Senior Palestinian officials told Haaretz on Monday Abbas may make do with going to the Security Council and not bring the request for statehood to the vote in the General Assembly.

However, members of Abbas' entourage say if the Security Council delays the request they should go to the General Assembly.

If Abbas goes no further than the Security Council, he will return to Ramallah without the UN's official recognition of Palestinian statehood. The loss of this diplomatic achievement will undermine Abbas' position. However, it will enable the Palestinians to repeat their request of the Security Council to accept Palestine as a full UN member.

A Palestinian request to the Security Council alone will help Washington delay the debate on Palestinian statehood for a long time, leaving room for further attempts to reach an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

This appears to be the reason the Quartet representatives and especially the European Union are still trying to reach agreements on the talks for a final-status arrangement between Israel and the Palestinians.

Israel is concerned about the possibility that the Palestinians will ask the UN General Assembly to recognize it as a state. Since the United States has no veto power in the assembly it would be harder to control the resolution that would be brought to the vote.

If the Palestinians won the status of a state, but not as a full member of the UN, they would have the right to sue Israel in the International Court in The Hague.

Abbas told journalists in his plane on the flight to New York, "we decided to take this step and all hell has broken out against us." But he 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.

Netanyahu is leaving tonight for New York and will meet President Barack Obama tomorrow. On Friday he will speak in the UN. The prime minister's aides said the chances are slim that the Americans and Quartet could reach a statement that is also agreeable to Russia, the UN and European Union, especially in view of the Palestinians' objection to recognizing Israel as "the Jewish people's nation state."