Palestinian officials brushed aside a promised U.S. veto and pressure to abandon their bid for U.N. membership, saying they were determined to take their case to the Security Council and realise a goal unfulfilled by decades of negotiations.
Senior aides to President Mahmoud Abbas said the Palestinians would not accept political delays in their membership bid. Mr. Abbas is expected to formally deliver a letter requesting membership, on Friday, when his turn comes to speak to the U.N. General Assembly.
The issue was dominating the annual ministerial meeting of the world body as the diplomatic world swirled with speculation about what deals might be in the works. The United States, insisting that Palestinian statehood depends first of peace with Israel, has vowed to veto the Palestinian measure should it win the needed nine of 15 Security Council votes.
Teams of envoys from the United States, the European Union and France were engaged in frenzied, last-minute efforts to persuade Mr. Abbas to return to the negotiating table and make do with something less than full U.N. membership.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Mr. Abbas met for more than 45 minutes on Wednesday evening. The White House wouldn’t say whether Mr. Obama directly asked the Palestinian leader to abandon his plans to pursue full U.N. membership, saying only that he reiterated his opposition to the statehood bid and the U.S. intention to issue a veto.
So far there was no indication that Mr. Abbas was ready for compromise despite intense pressure, but his aides said they were not setting deadlines for the Security Council to consider the application. And they left the door open for a Plan-B request to the General Assembly for an upgrade of their current status as a permanent observer to a non-member observer state.
That option is seen as the lesser of two evils by the U.S. and others seeking to steer them clear from the Security Council for now.
“This is an option that is open to us ... starting tomorrow, if we chose to do so, but President Abbas does not want anybody to suspect a lack of seriousness if we address the two councils at the same time,” Palestinian negotiator and senior Abbas adviser Nabeel Shaath told reporters. “So he will give some time to the Security Council to consider first our full membership request before heading to the General Assembly.”
“We do not have a time limit,” said Mr. Shaath. Nevertheless, he said, “This is a moment of truth.”
Saeb Erekat, another senior aide, echoed that sentiment, saying the pursuit of U.N. membership would not be slowed- “We will not allow any political manoeuvring on this issue,” he said
That persistence has put the Palestinians on a collision course with the United States and Israel. A frustrated President Barack Obama told world leaders during his Wednesday U.N. speech that “there are no shortcuts” to peace.
A year ago, Mr. Obama made a case for Palestinian statehood. But in his speech he did not mention key issues such as an end to the construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank or Palestinian demands that borders be drawn largely according to those that existed before the 1967 Mideast War.
“Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the United Nations,” Mr. Obama told delegates. “If it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now.”
But the Palestinians refused to accept that they could not negotiate peace after winning U.N. recognition.
Mr. Shaath said that “20 years after Oslo, we’re still occupied” by Israel, a reference to the Oslo Accords that were intended to serve as a framework for future negotiations.
“The kind of freakish control the Israelis impose on us is unbelievable,” Mr. Shaath said, referring to restrictions on movement between the Palestinian Authority-ruled West Bank and Hamas-governed Gaza. Israel and the United States say Hamas is a terrorist organisation.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy had outlined a plan that largely meshed with one drawn up by the European Union.
It called for a return to negotiations in a month, a broad agreement on other difficult issues in six months and a final agreement within the year. It also suggested the Palestinians seek a status upgrade through the General Assembly, where no member holds veto power. That would blunt the possible crisis that is feared if the U.S., as promised, vetoes the Palestinian application in the Security Council.
And Mr. Sarkozy also used tougher language with Israel than Mr. Obama, saying that the Jewish state must join the Palestinians in making difficult compromises.