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France to Back Palestinian Statehood at UN, Fabius Says

Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz warned the Palestinians they face “surprises” if they proceed with a bid to upgrade their status at the United Nations, a move also opposed by the U.S.

“If the Palestinian Authority thinks it can attack us in the UN and we will continue our cooperation on the ground with them, there are some surprises in store,” Steinitz said in an interview today on Army Radio. “When and to what degree -- that we will have to discuss and decide.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said he will ask the General Assembly tomorrow for the status upgrade, which would put the Palestine Liberation Organization on a par with the Vatican, calling it a first step toward achieving his people’s rights. Israel has criticized the move as an attempt by the Palestinians to bypass peace negotiations and achieve international statehood recognition unilaterally.

Israel plans to withhold 800 million shekels ($210 million) of tax revenue it would normally transfer to the Palestinian Authority and use the money to cover Palestinian debt to the Israel Electric Corp, an Israeli official told reporters in Jerusalem this week, on the condition he not be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Spain said today it will back the Palestinian bid, after France and Russia had announced their support. Foreign Secretary William Hague told Parliament today that the U.K. is ready to vote in favor if Palestinians offer assurances including agreeing to resume peace talks without preconditions.

‘Vast Majority’

The U.S. and European allies blocked Abbas’s efforts last year to achieve full statehood status through the Security Council, where the U.S. holds a veto. PLO official Hanan Ashrawi said at a Ramallah press conference today she expects a “vast majority” will support the bid in the General Assembly, where no country has veto power.

“The French decision to vote is encouraging, and will have an impact on others,” Ashrawi said.

Abbas, who controls only the West Bank, is pressing ahead with the initiative after Egypt brokered a cease-fire to end eight days of fighting between Israel and Hamas, the rival Islamist group running the Gaza Strip. That conflict left six Israelis and more than 160 Palestinians dead.

Hamas, which in 2007 fought Abbas’s Fatah for control of Gaza a year after winning parliamentary elections, gave the Palestinian Authority its backing for the UN bid on Nov. 22. Abbas said he hoped a successful vote would be followed by reconciliation between the factions. The U.S., the European Union and Israel consider Hamas a terrorist organization.

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