Bloomberg News

Palestinians Bring UN Statehood Bid to World Leaders in New York

September 19, 2011

Sept. 19 (Bloomberg) -- Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas arrived at the United Nations today for the year’s biggest gathering of world leaders, bent on defying a threatened U.S. veto in the Security Council by seeking full membership.

Abbas told UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of his intention to ask the UN’s principal policy-making panel for recognition of a Palestine state as the organization’s 194th member. Earlier, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad met with donors to ask for help tackling a deficit of $585 million.

Asked whether his government might compromise on seeking UN membership, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat, who accompanied Abbas into his first high-level meeting, said: “Nothing has changed.”

The 76-year-old Abbas’s address to General Assembly on Sept. 23 will provide the climax to a week of high-level meetings on issues ranging from the situation in Libya to nuclear safety to gender equity. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to speak about an hour after Abbas.

Today, Netanyahu called on Abbas to meet him on the sidelines of the UN meeting in New York.

“I suggest that President Abbas start peace negotiations instead of wasting time on unilateral steps that have no point,” Netanyahu said in a statement sent by text message to journalists.

Ahmadinejad, Not Qaddafi

The UN speeches are scheduled to begin on Sept. 21, when Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff will become the first woman to deliver the opening remarks.

For the first time in more than 40 years, Libya will not be represented by Muammar Qaddafi or one of his officials. National Transitional Council Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil will address the General Assembly and the Qaddafi regime’s green flag will be replaced with the rebels’ tri-color banner.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is set to make his annual appearance at the podium, an event typically featuring anti-semitic declarations that prompt Western delegates to walk out of the hall in protest.

The U.S. and about 10 nations have announced they won’t attend the 10-year commemoration of a UN conference on combating racism because past meetings have included what the Obama administration characterized as “ugly displays of intolerance” against Israel. The 2001 UN conference against racism took place in Durban, South Africa, and focused in large part on Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

Chavez Sidelined

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, undergoing cancer treatment, is not scheduled to attend, while octogenarian Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s dictator since 1980, is expected to blast Britain’s colonial past in his country. Japan’s new Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda will make his debut at the world body in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Still, most attention will be on the Palestinian initiative. U.S. President Barack Obama’s Sept. 21 speech will get particular scrutiny for clues on how the U.S. will respond. At the same gathering last year, Obama touted a peace plan that he said would lead to “an independent, sovereign state of Palestine.”

Instead, direct talks between Abbas and Netanyahu collapsed last September when the Israeli leader refused to extend a partial 10-month construction freeze on Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Abbas said he wouldn’t resume talks while building continues and any deal must be based on the 1967 borders, with land swaps.

Israel Pressing

A year later, the U.S. and Israel are now pressing members of the 15-nation Security Council to deny the Palestinians the nine votes they need for membership so the U.S. would not be forced to veto. That effort is gaining traction, according to an Israeli official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak on record.

Eight of the council’s members -- Russia, China, Gabon, Nigeria, South Africa, Brazil, Lebanon and India -- have indicated they will back the Palestinian proposal. That leaves the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Portugal, Colombia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“It’s premature to say now” whether Germany, the U.K. France and Portugal -- all on the Security Council -- will abstain from a vote, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said in an interview in New York. “We risk losing credibility if we have divisions among ourselves and divisions with the U.S.”

EU Split

The European Union is struggling to agree on a common position on Palestinian efforts to win recognition, undermining efforts by the bloc’s 27 members to wield more global clout.

The EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, representing the so-called Quartet mediating group, are leading a last-minute bid for a statement that might lure Abbas back into negotiations and, the U.S. hopes, delay any UN action. The Quartet is comprised of the U.S., UN, European Union and Russia.

“The best outcome of all the negotiations and discussions taking place here in New York this week would be if Palestinians and Israelis agreed to go back in to negotiations together,” Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague told the UN General Assembly today. “We along with all the other 26 countries of the European Union have withheld our position on how we would vote on any resolution that may come forward in the General Assembly in order to exert as much pressure on both sides to return to negotiations. That is the only real way forward.”

A new outbreak of political unrest in the Middle East is likely to follow the speeches by Abbas and Netanyahu, according to Cliff Kupchan, an analyst at New York-based research firm Eurasia Group.

“Traditional restraints are absent. Egypt and Turkey, formerly forces for moderation, will both be firmly in the Palestinian camp: condemning the US and Israel,” Kupchan said. “They will not foment violence, but neither will they restrain it. A further destabilizing factor will be the U.S. isolation and loss of influence. Washington will likely be isolated to an if not unprecedented, then very rare, extent.”

--With assistance from Nicole Gaouette in Washington and Calev Ben-David in Jerusalem. Editors: Terry Atlas, Steven Komarow

To contact the reporters on this story: Flavia Krause-Jackson in United Nations at fjackson@bloomberg.net; Bill Varner in United Nations at wvarner@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net


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