Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Diplomatic flurry ahead of Palestinian UN bid

U.S. and international envoys are holding a slew of meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in a last-ditch effort to contain a fallout from the Palestinians' plan to seek U.N. endorsement of a state.
U.S. diplomats Dennis Ross and David Hale are due in the region later Wednesday, and will meet with Israeli leaders before traveling to the West Bank the next day to talk with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Washington is trying to persuade the Palestinians to drop their plan to ask the U.N. to recognize an independent Palestinian state, but so far without success. The Palestinians are turning to the U.N. after peace talks with Israel broke down, hoping a U.N. bid would best boost their statehood campaign.
They say they will bring a resolution before the U.N. during the annual General Assembly session that begins in New York on Sept. 20, in the hope that U.N. recognition would enable them to gain leverage with Israel in future negotiations.
Israeli-Palestinian talks stalled nearly three years ago, reviving only briefly last September before foundering again over a Palestinian demand for a full Israeli settlement construction freeze.
Israel opposes the Palestinians' planned U.N. bid. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned Wednesday that it would have unspecified "grave implications." The United States has promised to veto the bid if it reaches the U.N. Security Council. Both contend that negotiations are the only way to produce a Palestinian state.
The Palestinians have not announced what they plan to do at the U.N., but they could sidestep the Security Council by asking the General Assembly to grant them the status of non-member observer — a lesser status than full membership, but an alternative that could not be vetoed by the U.S. and would be expected to pass.
In addition to the U.S. diplomatic efforts, the European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, was making the rounds in Israel on Wednesday, after meeting with Abbas in Cairo a day earlier.
Tony Blair, the special envoy of the Quartet of Mideast mediators — the U.S., E.U., Russia and the United Nations — met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday and will see Abbas in Amman, Jordan, late Wednesday or Thursday. The Quartet is trying to fashion a statement that would allow both sides to resume negotiations.
The Palestinian bid for recognition comes at a particularly volatile time for Israel and its neighbors. Turkey recalled its ambassador earlier this month after Israel refused to apologize for its May 2010 raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla that killed nine Turks.
Israel's ties with Egypt have been tested by last weekend's attack on the Israeli Embassy in Cairo that forced the evacuation of all Israeli diplomats but one from the country.

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