Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu - AP - 05092011
Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu last year. Photo by AP
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White House Middle East emissaries Dennis Ross and David Hale met Wednesday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and made it clear to him that a request to the United Nations for recognition in about two weeks of an independent Palestinian state could have serious implications. For his part, Abbas said the Palestinian request for recognition of statehood within the 1967 borders had reached a point of no return and he could not retract it.

Ross and Hale also met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak in the course of their visit to the region, but the trip was aimed at applying last-minute pressure on the Palestinian president. An Israeli source with knowledge of the details of the meeting between the visiting Americans and Abbas noted that this was the first time the Americans had spelled out the full negative implications of the Palestinian request to the UN.

It was a break with past procedure that saw Hale joined at the Ramallah meeting with the Palestinian president by Ross, who is a senior adviser to U.S. President Barack Obama, and by the deputy legal adviser at the State Department, Jonathan Schwartz. "The Americans told Abu Mazen [Abbas] the whole truth to his face in a rather harsh way," an Israeli source said.

Another Israeli official noted that the American emissaries spelled out the damage, item by item, that pursuing UN recognition could cause the Palestinian Authority, painted the bleakest of scenarios and at times even exaggerated the gravity of the situation.

At a hearing before the U.S. Congress, the undersecretary for political affairs at the State Department, Wendy Sherman, said that if the Palestinian statehood proposal was brought before the UN Security Council, the United States would exercise its veto power to block it. At their meeting with Abbas, Ross and Hale stressed that in addition to invoking the veto on any request to the Security Council, even a request for statehood recognition by the UN General Assembly would result in a reduction of American aid to the Palestinian Authority, which currently stands at about $450 million a year.

Congress would be expected to cut it and in such an eventuality only a special presidential order could free up the funding.

Abbas told his American guests that the Palestinian request to the UN was not a substitute for negotiations with Israel, and he is ready to resume negotiations after the UN vote. The U.S. diplomats told the PA leader that recognition of a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders would totally change the legal basis of relations between the PA and Israel, and would undermine some of the foundations on which the peace process has been based.

According to the Israeli source, the American emissaries had the impression that Abbas does not sufficiently understand the significance of the UN request and its implications. "Abu Mazen [Abbas] conveyed great distress in his meeting with Ross and Hale," the source said, adding that he understood that he had painted himself into a corner but cannot extricate himself.

Despite the warnings conveyed by the visiting Obama administration officials, the meeting ended in failure, with Abbas saying that although he was not interested in a confrontation with Israel or a quarrel with the United States, at the current stage he could not forgo the request to the UN. He had no other option, the PA leader said.

On Thursday, George Mitchell, who resigned as U.S. Middle East peace emissary several months ago, told a Georgetown University audience in Washington that the chances of the Obama administration managing to get Abbas to change course are extremely small. It is difficult to be optimistic about development over the coming months, Mitchell said.

On Thursday, the executive council of the Palestinian Liberation Organization convened in Ramallah and reaffirmed its determination to pursue statehood recognition at the UN. Also on Thursday, the Palestinians launched a campaign to rally support for U.N. recognition, planning demonstrations in the Palestinian territories and worldwide before asking the world body to accept them as a full member state later this month.

AP contributed to this report .