Palestinian leaders have said they will formally request recognition of their state and full membership of the U.N. next month, despite strong U.S. opposition amid warnings that such a move would jeopardise peace talks.

Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian President, will personally present the application to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon before the U.N. General Assembly opens on September 20.

The U.N. has the moral, legal, political and historical responsibility to recognise Palestine and “to put an end to the Israeli occupation”, said Ryad Malki, Palestinian Foreign Minister.

Mr. Abbas is to travel to Lebanon on Tuesday to discuss the plan. Lebanon will hold the rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council next month and is expected to be sympathetic to the Palestinian campaign.

The Israeli Prime Minister's office said the Palestinian move was “expected and regrettable”. “Binyamin Netanyahu [the Israeli Prime Minister] still believes that only through direct and honest negotiations — not through unilateral decisions — will it be possible to advance the peace process,” said the statement.

The Palestinian decision to adopt the U.N. approach is borne of frustration over stalled negotiations. Direct talks broke down last September when Israel refused to extend a temporary freeze on settlement expansion. The Palestinians also hope that U.N. recognition of their state will increase international pressure on Israel to end its 44-year occupation.

Full membership of the U.N. requires the backing of the 15-member Security Council before approval by the General Assembly. The U.S. has already stated its intention to veto such a move. The U.K., also a permanent member of the Security Council, has not declared its position. If the bid for full membership fails, the Palestinians are expected to request “non-member state” status — a step short of full recognition — at the General Assembly, which requires a two-thirds majority of the 193 countries. At the moment, the Palestinians believe they have the support of about 120.

Both the Palestinians and the Israelis have launched global diplomatic offensives in recent weeks to win support for their respective positions. According to Mr. Malki, the Palestinians' “weakest point” was Latin America and the Caribbean, whose countries are meeting on Friday to try to establish a common position.

The Israeli diplomatic campaign has focused on Europe. The 27 EU countries are presently split on whether to back the Palestinian bid, with Germany and Italy opposed, Ireland and Portugal in favour, and France and the U.K. undeclared. EU officials have pushed for a compromise in an attempt to keep the EU bloc together.

The U.S. has also sought to avoid a vote at the U.N. by attempting to reopen direct talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Despite Mr. Netanyahu's oft-repeated statements that there is no alternative to negotiations, many in the international community are sceptical about his willingness to make concessions to allow a Palestinian state. Last week, the Israeli authorities confirmed plans for 1,600 homes in settlements in East Jerusalem, with another 2,700 expected to be approved in the coming days. The Palestinians want East Jerusalem, which was annexed by Israel after the 1967 war, to be their capital.

“The settlements are the real obstacle to the resumption of negotiations,” Mr. Abbas was quoted as telling the U.S. Consul General in Jerusalem on Saturday. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011

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