Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas vowed to move forward with a campaign for full membership in the United Nations, offering a slim possibility of halting the bid in the face of U.S. objections.
Middle East envoy Tony Blair is still working on a deal to restart peace talks with Israel and derail a vote on Palestinian statehood when the UN General Assembly meets later this month, Abbas told a group of reporters yesterday. He said the package would have to be based on the West Bank’s 1967 borders with agreed-upon land swaps and include a freeze on Jewish settlement construction, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected.
“They are cooking something,” Abbas said in the interview at his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah. “Tony Blair told us that he is working with the Quartet to produce something. If he brings this, we are ready to look at it seriously.”
President Barack Obama’s Middle East envoy, David Hale, failed to persuade Abbas to drop the UN bid at a meeting this week. The so-called Quartet comprises the U.S., European Union, Russia and the United Nations, which tapped Blair after he stepped down as U.K. prime minister in 2007 as its representative to help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Abbas, 76, said he will “complain to the world” when he addresses the UN General Assembly Sept. 23 that peace talks with Israel have not led to statehood and that the Palestinian people must plot an independent course.
“We know that many countries do not agree with us, do not like this idea, but we will go there,” Abbas said. “We will tell the world that we are a state under occupation. Help us get rid of this occupation.”
The Palestinian leader pledged that his security services will make sure that rallies in the West Bank in support of independence don’t turn violent. The Israeli army has given special training to its West Bank troops and to settlement leaders in the event that confrontations break out.
“I assure you that nothing will happen here,” Abbas said. “Even during the demonstrations, no clashes, no frictions between the Palestinians and the Israelis.”
Referring to television coverage of the army training exercises, he said, “We are afraid that the Israelis will send the settlers and the dogs to attack the Palestinians.”
If the Palestinians apply for full UN membership status at the Security Council, the U.S. would veto the resolution, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said yesterday. Israel, the U.S. and several European countries say UN membership should only come after the Palestinians and Israel reach a negotiated peace agreement.
About 140 countries are likely to support the Palestinian bid for statehood recognition at the UN General Assembly, Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath said Sept. 4. The General Assembly could recognize Palestine as a non-member state, the status that the Vatican carries at the world body.
Peace talks broke down last September when Netanyahu refused to extend a partial 10-month construction freeze in West Bank settlements and the Palestinians said they wouldn’t resume talks as long as building continued.
The Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee officially endorsed the statehood bid yesterday. The committee’s secretary-general, Yasser Abed Rabbo, told reporters that it is calling on Palestinians to hold “peaceful demonstrations” in support of the move. Abbas is chairman of the PLO, which formally oversees the Palestinian Authority and has been responsible for conducting the peace talks with Israel.
In the interview, Abbas repeated that he will not accept Netanyahu’s challenge to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, which the Israeli leader said would make him more flexible in any new peace talks. He said the PLO’s recognition of Israel under the 1993 Oslo accords should suffice, noting neither Egypt nor Jordan took such a step when they signed peace treaties.
“We recognized Israel and they recognized the PLO and that’s it,” Abbas said.
Fadwa Hodali in Ramallah through the Tel Aviv newsroom at +email@example.com