Israel would agree to upgrade the Palestinian Authority's status at the United Nations as long as it is not declared a state, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in talks with Catherine Ashton, the European Union's foreign policy chief, over the past few days.
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On Thursday Netanyahu decided to address the UN General Assembly next Friday, the day the Palestinians will submit their statehood bid.
Meanwhile, the Foreign ministry summoned the ambassadors of five key EU members Thursday to rebuke them over their countries' policy on the Palestinians' bid for UN recognition as a state.
Netanyahu said on Thursday that his speech to the United Nations would stress that negotiations are the only road to peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
"The General Assembly is not a place where Israel usually receives a fair hearing," he said at a press conference with Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas at his Jerusalem residence. "But I still decided to tell the truth before anyone who would like to hear it."
Netanyahu is scheduled to speak at 2 A.M. Israel time, a few hours after PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
U.S. President Barack Obama is to be in New York at the same time Netanyahu is there, but no meeting has been scheduled between the two.
Netanyahu continued his talks with U.S. envoys Dennis Ross and David Hale on Thursday, as well as Ashton and Quartet envoy Tony Blair, in an attempt to reach a compromise that would prevent an Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the UN. But no breakthrough was made, and the PA's appeal to the United Nations next week is regarded as inevitable.
Netanyahu told his interlocutors that granting the PA the status of a state would allow the Palestinians to go to the International Criminal Court in The Hague over issues like settlement construction. "But as long as it is less than a state, I'm ready to talk about it," a source familiar with the conversation quoted him as saying.
One of Netanyahu's advisers also said that Israel would not object to the PA's status being upgraded as long as it is not recognized as a state.
Both U.S. officials and Blair have been pressuring Ashton over the past few days to quash a French-Spanish initiative under which the EU's 27 members would unanimously support a General Assembly resolution upgrading the PA's status at the United Nations to that of a nonmember state. This initiative would give the PA the same status the Vatican now has.
In exchange, the PA would not ask the Security Council to grant it full UN membership or file charges against Israelis in the ICC.
Ashton, who had come to the region to gauge the parties' response to the French-Spanish initiative, did not even discuss it due to this pressure. Instead, without consulting the EU member states, Ashton raised a proposal of her own that conformed to Netanyahu's position.
Under Ashton's proposal, the PA would be upgraded to a new legal status less than that of a state. Such a status currently does not exist at the United Nations, but would be created especially for this purpose.
This status would not give the PA the standing it would need to take Israelis to the ICC.
Ashton, Blair and the Americans are also proposing that the Quartet - comprised of the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia - draft a statement calling for renewed Israeli-Palestinian negotiations based on Obama's speeches in May.
The Quartet's foreign ministers are to meet Sunday in New York, but they are considered unlikely to reach a consensus on the wording of such a statement.
European diplomats said that many EU countries oppose Ashton's proposal and say she acted without authority. Under these circumstances, they added, EU members are bound to split their votes in the General Assembly.
The Palestinians also oppose Ashton's proposal, because they say it would not grant them the status of a state.
On Thursday PA Foreign Minister Riad Malki announced that Abbas plans to ask the Security Council to grant a Palestinian state full membership in the United Nations.
But Israel, the United States and the European Union believe the Palestinians will ultimately decide seek a General Assembly resolution recognizing the PA as a nonmember state. Though General Assembly resolutions, unlike those of the Security Council, are nonbinding, the United States cannot veto them, and the approval process is much quicker.
Meanwhile on Thursday, Foreign Ministry Deputy Director General Ran Koriel and Naor Gilman, the deputy director general for Europe, summoned the ambassadors of France, Germany, Britain, Spain and Italy to demand that they stop promoting an upgrade of the PA's status.
"We oppose any compensation to the Palestinians in exchange for approaching the General Assembly instead of the Security Council," one source quoted the Israeli officials as saying. "What we expect from your countries is simply to vote against any resolution."
The conversation apparently grew tense as the European envoys in their turn took Israel to task for opposing the Palestinian maneuver.