Abbas presses Palestinian UN bid despite warnings

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – President Mahmoud Abbas told the UN chief yesterday he would seek full membership for a Palestinian state at the United Nations, a move the United States and Israel warn could derail hopes for resuming peace talks.

Abbas told UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon he would press ahead with plans to ask for a Security Council vote on Friday on Palestinian membership. Washington has threatened to veto any such move.

Ban told Abbas he would send any application submitted to the Security Council and called for the Israelis and the Palestinians to resume talks “within a legitimate and balanced framework,” UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

The Palestinian crisis has overshadowed this week’s meeting of the UN General Assembly and sparked hectic talks aimed at averting a confrontation that carries risks for the Palestinians, Israel and the United States.

Senior diplomats from the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations — the Quartet of Middle East mediators — are meeting throughout the week in hopes of finding a way forward.

The Quartet has for months been trying to put together guidelines for future peace talks, thus far without result.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has offered to launch direct negotiations but has not made any concession on key issues the Palestinians say prevent talks from resuming.

Abbas, speaking to reporters on his plane to New York, acknowledged his decision could have repercussions for his Palestinian Authority, the fragile government-in-waiting that depends on international financial aid for its survival in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

“We decided to take this step and all hell has broken out against us,” he said, adding he would not be swayed. “From now until I give the speech, we have only one choice: going to the Security Council. Afterwards, we will sit and decide.”

The White House underscored its threat to veto any Palestinian move at the Security Council and said it would focus on trying to nudge the two sides back to negotiations.

“We’ve made our position clear, which is that we oppose actions to achieve a Palestinian state through the United Nations,” Obama’s deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes told reporters.

Rhodes said Obama had no meeting planned with Abbas while both are in New York but said there was always the possibility of a change in the schedule.

US-backed talks between Abbas and Netanyahu collapsed nearly a year ago when the Palestinians pulled out after Israel declined to extend a partial moratorium on Jewish settlement building in the West Bank.

The two sides remain divided on borders, the status of Jerusalem, the future of Palestinian refugees and whether Israel should be acknowledged as a Jewish state.

The Palestinians say they will not resume talks unless the moratorium on building is reinstated. Israel says talks should resume without preconditions with the aim of producing two states.

The Palestinian decision to go to the United Nations has caused consternation in Washington, where some US lawmakers say they will try to cut the roughly $500 million in US aid per year to the Palestinians if they refuse to back down.

The Palestinian Authority’s central bank chief warned this could doom current efforts at self-government.

“Really, the risk of PA collapse is very real under the financial strain,” Jihad al-Wazir told Reuters.

Saudi Arabia said yesterday it would pay the Palestinian Authority $200 million, which could help in the short term but would not fully replace lost US funding.

With little hope of success in the Security Council, the Palestinians may ask the UN General Assembly to upgrade their standing from an “entity” to a “non-member state” — a move they believe is likely to pass with support from at least 126 members of the 193-member body.

Abbas is scheduled to meet French President Nicholas Sarkozy today. He met French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe yesterday, who warned that both Israel and the Palestinians were courting disaster.

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