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Palestinians set date for UN statehood bid

Palestinian President Abbas is to petition the UN for membership on 20 September, hoping Lebanon as head of the Security Council will add to their weight

AFP , Sunday 14 Aug 2011
A Palestinian man holds a national flag during a rally calling for Palestinian independence, in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem July 15, 2011 (Reuters)
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The Palestinians are to present their bid for UN membership on September 20, despite Israeli and US opposition, Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Malki told AFP on Saturday.

"Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas will personally present the request to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon... at the opening of the sixty-sixth session," on September 20, Malki said.

Abbas will "insist on this historic initiative and Ban Ki-moon will present the request to the Security Council," he said.

A senior Israeli official who requested anonymity criticised the Palestinian decision.

"Apparently Mahmud Abbas has decided to refrain from conducting direct negotiations; this was expected and it's a shame," he said.

"Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to believe that the peace process can only progress through direct and real negotiations," he added.

Malki added that the Palestinian Authority chose September because Lebanon, holding the rotating presidency of the Security Council, would be in a strong position to push the bid forward.

"Lebanon will hold the presidency of the Security Council in September and this will help us because the president of the council has special prerogatives, which is crucial," he said.

Following the collapse of direct peace talks with Israel in September last year, the Palestinians have adopted a diplomatic strategy of looking to secure UN recognition for a state along the frontiers which existed before the 1967 Six-Day War.

Abbas has revealed he held four secret meetings with Israeli President Shimon Peres to try to find a compromise but Netanyahu scuppered the efforts, a Palestinian official said on Saturday.

The Palestinians had already expressed their intention to ask the Security Council for UN membership in September, in the absence of negotiations with Israel before the annual UN General Assembly.

But they face opposition from the United States, which threatens to derail the Palestinian bid through its Security Council veto. An application for UN membership must be approved by the council.

To circumvent the veto, the Palestinians could turn to the General Assembly, asking it to "raise [their] status to a UN observer and non-member state."

That formula would allow them to become a full member of all UN agencies, such as WHO, UNESCO and UNICEF, where the Palestinians presently have no presence.

Malki said he expected that "more than 130 countries would recognise the state of Palestine" along 1967 borders.

The Palestinians are determined to go to the UN, in the absence of a realistic prospect of resuming peace talks, which have been stalled for nearly a year.

To resume talks, Palestinian officials insist on a moratorium on new Jewish settlements, including in annexed east Jerusalem, which Israel has refused despite intense international pressure.

The Israeli government, which is opposed to a unilateral approach by the Palestinians, this week announced its intention to continue building settlements in east Jerusalem neighbourhoods.

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