Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Barack Obama - Reuters - September 21 2011
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in New York, September 21, 2011. Photo by Reuters
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NEW YORK - The diplomatic clash between Israel and the Palestinian Authority intensified yesterday, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas threw themselves into marathon meetings with U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders at UN headquarters in New York. The PA plans to formally apply for UN recognition as a state tomorrow.

Obama, who addressed the General Assembly yesterday, said in his speech that he objects to the Palestinian bid for UN recognition as a state. "There is no shortcut to the end of a conflict that has endured for decades," Obama said. "Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the UN ... Ultimately, it is Israelis and Palestinians who must live side by side. Ultimately, it is Israelis and Palestinians - not us - who must reach agreement on the issues that divide them."

Senior Israeli officials who spoke to members of Abbas' entourage said that after the Palestinians submit their request for full UN membership to the Security Council on Friday, they intend to ask the General Assembly to recognize Palestine in the 1967 borders as a nonmember state.

"Within three or four weeks, the Palestinians will go to the General Assembly, where they will have a large majority with no risk of an American veto," one Israeli official said.

On Friday, he said, the Palestinians will submit their request to the UN secretary general and the Security Council. Next, "the Security Council will set up a committee to discuss the request."

"In any case, there will be no vote in the Security Council this week or in the next few weeks," he added. "So all the talk about an Israeli-American effort to block a Security Council resolution is strange."

Netanyahu was unable to attend Obama's address at the General Assembly because he was meeting with the president of Colombia, as part of Israel's effort to convince the Security Council member to vote against the Palestinians' membership request. When he was handed a transcript of the speech, he skipped straight to the part concerning Israel and the Palestinians and nodded in satisfaction, Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren said.

Immediately after Obama's speech, the U.S. president and Netanyahu held a tete-a-tete that lasted more than an hour.

Netanyahu thanked Obama for speaking out against UN recognition of a Palestinian state and insisting on the principle of direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, with no shortcuts via the United Nations.

Oren said it was a "badge of honor" for Israel that Washington stood with Jerusalem on these issues.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman also congratulated Obama on his UN speech and praised him for not saying that negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians should be based on the 1967 lines. "It's the best speech Obama has made so far, and I am ready to sign this speech with both hands," Lieberman said.

Opposition leader MK Tzipi Livni (Kadima ) praised the speech as well, saying the president was right to demand a return to negotiations and to emphasize that UN speeches will not "change a thing."

But Palestinians were deeply disappointed by what Obama said.

"I couldn't believe what I heard," Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestinian delegation, told Haaretz. "It sounded as though the Palestinians were the ones occupying Israel. There wasn't one word of empathy for the Palestinians. He spoke only of the Israelis' troubles. We understand Obama is facing elections, but what we heard from him - that's exactly why we're going to the UN."

After meeting Netanyahu, Obama met Abbas in a last-ditch effort to persuade him to change his mind about submitting his application for statehood to the Security Council tomorrow.

But a Palestinian official said that Abbas has no intention of agreeing to delay the vote on his request for membership in the United Nations, despite mounting pressure from both the United States and France.

Netanyahu and Lieberman met with various world leaders and foreign ministers yesterday in a bid to persuade them to oppose the Palestinian move. In addition to the president of Colombia, Netanyahu met the prime minister of Canada and the president of Gabon.

Lieberman said he received a text message from a senior American official asking him to refrain from making statements to the media about the pressure Israel is applying on various other states.