New York meetings open to avert Palestinian crisis

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A last-ditch international push began in New York yesterday to try to relaunch Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and avert a crisis over Palestinian statehood at the United Nations.

Officials met two days after President Mahmoud Abbas said he would demand full membership of the world body for a Palestinian state at the UN General Assembly this week, setting up a diplomatic clash with Israel and the United States.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held talks with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. Asked before the meeting if either could report any progress, Clinton replied, “We are meeting to talk about the way forward.” Asked if that meant no progress, she said, “I didn’t say that.”

Senior diplomats from the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations — the so-called Quartet of Middle East mediators — also met yesterday, an EU official said, as part of an intense effort in recent weeks to persuade the Palestinians to drop their UN plans.

The official said the diplomats were assessing the situation, but had no further details.

Washington and Israel say a UN vote over Palestinian statehood would damage chances for peace negotiations, arguing that a state can only be created through a settlement between the two sides.

But in a televised speech on Friday, Abbas said he would request the Palestinians’ “legitimate right, obtaining full membership for Palestine.” The Palestinians say almost 20 years of on-off direct talks on statehood envisaged by interim peace accords have hit a dead end.

The United States says it will veto in the Security Council a Palestinian application for full UN membership, but former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who serves an an envoy for the Quartet, said yesterday a showdown could still be averted.

“What we will be looking for over the next few days is a way of putting together something that allows their claims and legitimate aspirations for statehood to be recognized whilst actually renewing the only thing that’s going to produce a state, which is a negotiation directly between the two sides,” he told the ABC television program “This Week.”

The Quartet has for months been trying to put together guidelines for future peace talks, but so far without being able to agree on key details.

Blair said the proposed framework sets out “where we want to go on issues like borders … And I think what’s going to be really important is also to give some sense of a timeframe, a timeline, if you like, for a successful negotiation.”

The last round of the US-backed talks between Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu collapsed nearly a year ago. The Palestinians pulled out after Israel declined to extend a partial moratorium on settlement building in the West Bank on land the Palestinians want for their state.

The Palestinians say they will not resume talks unless the moratorium is reinstated. Israel says talks should resume without preconditions but that it accepts the idea that the Palestinians should ultimately have their own state.

US President Barack Obama is under pressure from Congress to back Israel’s stance. House speaker John Boehner, a Republican, told a Jewish group in Cincinnati on Sunday the US commitment to Israel “should be stronger than it’s ever been.”

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