Abbas vows to press ahead with UN vote

RAMALLAH – Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has said that last-ditch American and international efforts to prevent Palestinians…

RAMALLAH – Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has said that last-ditch American and international efforts to prevent Palestinians from applying for membership in the United Nations this month were “too late”.

He said the intention remained to submit an application for recognition of Palestinian statehood to the Security Council as a first step, despite a risk of confrontation with the United States.

“To be frank with you, they came too late,” Mr Abbas told a group of foreign reporters on Thursday evening at the Mukata, his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah. The international powers had “wasted all the time” since the beginning of the year, he said, and even now, less than two weeks before the prospective bid at the United Nations, they still had not produced any concrete proposal.

Abbas was speaking after meeting in recent days two senior American diplomats, David Hale and Dennis Ross, and Tony Blair, the envoy of the quartet of Middle East peacemakers – the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations. He said he had also spoken by telephone with US secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton this week.

The United States has vowed to vetoe a vote on Palestinian statehood at the assembly, saying that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be resolved only through direct negotiations.

Mr Abbas said that if the quartet produced a package to pave the way back to negotiations that included an Israeli freeze on settlement construction and the use of the pre-1967 lines with agreed land swaps as the basis for talks on borders – both longstanding Palestinian demands – the Palestinians “will go to the United Nations and we will return back to talks”.

Israel has offered to enter talks at any time, but without preconditions. Israeli officials say a UN vote in favour of Palestinian statehood based on the pre-1967 boundaries could set back peace negotiations for years, because no Palestinian leader would be able to accept anything less than what the United Nations accepts.

Israeli minister for defence Ehud Barak called on Mr Abbas on Thursday “to return to the negotiating table with no preconditions and to try to reach a breakthrough together”.

He called on the quartet to help as best they could to this end.

Mr Abbas said that he did not want a confrontation with the US, but that a response would be up to the Americans. The Palestinians have been deliberately vague about their exact plans. Some analysts view as brinkmanship their intention of going first to the Security Council for a vote, rather than to the General Assembly.

This would give Palestine a more modest status in the United Nations as an observer, nonmember state. Mr Abbas said that after they arrive at the United Nations on September 19th, the Palestinians will hand their application to secretary general Ban Ki-moon for submission to the Security Council, and that a copy would go to the General Assembly chief. Then, he said, the Palestinians will see what occurs.

Earlier Palestinian officials and supporters kicked off a popular campaign to accompany the UN bid, with several dozen people marching to the UN headquarters in Ramallah.

Elsewhere in the West Bank, Israeli settlers were widely suspected of having sprayed Hebrew graffiti on a mosque and set fire to two cars belonging to Palestinians on Thursday to protest the Israeli military’s destruction of three settlers’ houses at an illegal outpost this week.

Last Monday, Israeli settlers attempted to set a fire inside an unused mosque in another West Bank village.– (N ew York Timesservice)