Abbas to Seek Full UN Recognition Despite Western Pressure

President Obama meets with Abbas in effort to convince him not to seek Security Council recognition, warning that U.S. would use its veto power to block it.

NEW YORK - Despite heavy pressure from the West, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas remains determined to formally apply for UN recognition of a Palestinian state today.

U.S. President Barack Obama met with Abbas last night in an effort to convince him not to seek Security Council recognition, warning that the U.S. would use its veto power to block it. Lower-level American officials also met with Abbas several times, but to no avail.

Obama and Abbas - AP - September 2011

Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, reiterated yesterday that Abbas' statehood bid will not contribute to the peace process and will merely delay the start of negotiations - which, she added, are the only way the Palestinians can actually achieve independence.

American officials also continued their effort to mobilize enough Security Council votes to defeat the statehood bid without a U.S. veto. Germany has already announced it won't vote yes, and Rice said she is convinced other countries will do the same. America, she said, is not the only country to realize that the UN gambit is unproductive.

Meanwhile, France spent yesterday pushing a compromise in which the UN General Assembly would upgrade the PA to the status of a nonmember state in exchange for the PA dropping its bid for Security Council acceptance as a full UN member.

The French proposal also calls for Israeli-Palestinian talks to resume with a fixed deadline: six months to sign a final deal on borders and security arrangements and another six months for a deal on all other outstanding issues, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told Haaretz. In addition, the Palestinians would have to promise not to take any steps that would violate the spirit of the peace process, such as filing charges against Israel in the International Criminal Court. That would include withdrawing the complaint Palestinians filed to the ICC in 2009 over Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.

Juppe said the Americans have expressed interest in the French proposal, but Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser, didn't echo that assessment at a briefing for reporters. Rhodes said Obama had discussed the initiative with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and believes it contains some important ideas; Obama shares Sarkozy's view that resuming negotiations is vital. However, Rhodes added, there is a key difference: Washington opposes any UN vote on the matter.

Juppe also acknowledged that Israel is unenthusiastic. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly told American and European officials that he opposes any UN recognition of a Palestinian state - even if it is only by the General Assembly, whose resolutions are nonbinding - and he reiterated that to Sarkozy yesterday.

Moreover, it's not clear on what terms negotiations would resume: Azzam Ahmed, a senior aide to Abbas, reiterated yesterday that "There will be no negotiations whatsoever as long as Israel refuses to freeze settlement construction and accept the 1967 lines as the terms of reference for the negotiations," and Israel has repeatedly refused to accept those preconditions.

But the French initiative appears to have wide support in the European Union. Spain and Britain have already pledged to support it, and Germany has promised to do so as well if it includes some key provisions important to Israel, especially with regard to the ICC. Altogether, a senior European diplomat told Haaretz, 25 of the EU's 27 members support the plan.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, secretary of the Palestine Liberation Organization's executive committee, said that a large bloc of Arab, African and Latin American states also back the French proposal, as does Abbas. Abbas, he said, sees no contradiction between the French plan and his own decision to apply for full UN membership.

But Abed Rabbo also said that Abbas told Obama he won't tolerate any political intervention to delay the Security Council's handling of his application, and the French proposal would seem to call for precisely that: Under it, Abbas could still submit his application to the council today as planned, but would not work to bring it to a vote.

Both Abbas and Netanyahu will address the General Assembly today, the former at 6:30 P.M. Israel time and the latter at 7:15 P.M. Abbas will then formally submit the PA's request for UN membership to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Ban will then brief Netanyahu on its contents, at Netanyahu's request.

Last night, Netanyahu and Ban held a lengthy meeting during which Netanyahu sought details on UN procedures for handling the PA's application. Ban told Netanyahu that to aid the international effort to block the statehood bid, Israel must make a significant gesture to Abbas. He also urged Netanyahu not to impose any sanctions on the PA afterward.