President Mahmoud Abbas reportedly won't cave to U.S., French pressure to push back vote on statehood
A top Palestinian official said Wednesday that President Mahmoud Abbas had no plans to agree to a delayed vote on his bid for membership in the United Nations, rejecting mounting pressure from the United States and France.
The Palestinians plan to submit their letter of application on Friday when Abbas is to speak to the U.N. General Assembly, but he faced a withering lack of support as the world body opened its annual meeting. President Barack Obama said there could be no “shortcuts” in the quest for Middle East peace, a message that was echoed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
“We will not allow any political manoeuvring on this issue,” said Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to Abbas and former chief of negotiations.
Erekat said Abbas had made that plain in discussions with all parties involved over the last three days of meetings in the lead-up to the annual UN global gathering of presidents, heads of state and ruling royalty.
Sarkozy proposed a one-year timetable Wednesday for Israel and the Palestinians to reach a peace accord, part of a concerted push with the United States to steer the Palestinians away from an application for U.N. membership.
Sarkozy spoke shortly after Obama warned against action on the Palestinian bid before there was a peace agreement. He said negotiations, not U.N. declarations, were essential to a lasting peace.
While Obama stopped short of calling directly for the Palestinians to drop their bid for full membership — an effort the U.S. has vowed to veto in the Security Council — Sarkozy sounded a more compromising tone and urged each side, and the international community, to approach the deadlocked process with new ideas and tactics.
“Let us cease our endless debates on the parameters and let us begin negotiations and adopt a precise and ambitious timetable,” Sarkozy told the leaders and officials gathered at the U.N. “Sixty years without moving one centimeter forward, doesn’t that suggest that we should change the method and the scheduling here?”
“Let’s have one month to resume discussions, six months to find agreement on borders and security, one year to reach a definitive agreement,” he said.
A senior European Union official said the proposal laid out by Sarkozy matched one by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton during a meeting with EU foreign ministers on Tuesday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the discussions.
Abbas’ push for full membership, which he has said would be submitted on Friday, has dominated this year’s U.N. meeting, pushing the U.S. and Israel against a wall of international sympathy for Palestinians. While the full membership bid would meet with a certain U.S. veto in the Security Council, assuming the Palestinians muster enough votes to have it approved, they have succeeded in bringing the issue again to the forefront of the world’s political discussions after years of failed negotiations, bickering and sporadic outbreaks of violence.
Sarkozy said that by setting preconditions, “we doom ourselves to failure. … There must be no preconditions.”
It remained unclear whether the latest proposal would be enough to avert a showdown over statehood that has consumed the U.N. over the past few days and sparked a frenzy of last-minute diplomatic door-knocking by the Israelis and the Palestinians, as well as a flurry of discussions between the Quartet of Mideast negotiators — the U.S., the E.U., the U.N. and Russia.
But the proposal outlined by Sarkozy received a warmer welcome from the Palestinians than Obama’s comments.
Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior Abbas aide, told The Associated Press that the Palestinians “appreciate the speech and the positions included in that speech.”
“The Palestinian leadership will study seriously the positions and the ideas in that speech,” he said.
Obama’s remarks, however, drew a lukewarm response, with the Palestinian delegation wearing stern and disapproving looks as the U.S. president spoke.
“Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the United Nations — if it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now,” the president told U.N. delegates. “Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians who must live side by side. Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians — not us — who must reach agreement on the issues that divide them.”
Obama showed solidarity with Israel, not mentioning a return to the borders before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war in which Israel annexed territory. The remarks may rile some in the Arab world where mass uprisings against authoritarian regimes have also sparked a new measure of anti-U.S. sentiment. Obama’s words also stood in stark contrast to the image he left behind when he addressed the Muslim world from Cairo in 2009, pledging to improve relations and cooperation.
Senior Palestinian officials said Abbas will reiterate to Obama his decision to move forward with the application for membership that will be submitted to the Security Council. But they also said that the Palestinians seek to cooperate with the U.S. and will be ready to return to the negotiating table once a solid foundation for talks was in place.
Nabil Abu Redeineh said that “peace in the Middle East needs an immediate end of the Israeli occupation” and that the U.S. needs to pressure Israel to immediately withdraw from lands annexed in 1967. The Palestinians are ready to return to talks “the minute Israel accepts” those borders and stops settlement building, he said.
Obama was scheduled to meet later Wednesday with Abbas.
He met earlier in the day with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
With Obama at his side, the Israeli premier said the Palestinian bid to appeal directly to the U.N. was a short cut that “will not succeed.” Netanyahu also lauded Obama for speaking up on principle.
The issue of Palestinian statehood has gained new momentum in the Arab world amid the so-called Arab Spring uprisings that have ousted the leaders of Egypt, Tunisia and Libya and laid the still rocky foundations for a new era of freedom and democratic nations in a region dominated by dictators, monarchs and other entrenched regimes.
Associated Press writers Mohammed Daraghmeh, Amy Teibel and Julie Pace in New York contributed reporting.
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