NEW YORK – Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spent Thursday in New York behind closed doors preparing his much-touted public verbal duel with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the United Nations General Assembly on Friday morning.

During what is expected to be a dramatic showdown, Abbas will likely make an emotional bid to the represented nations, asking that they recognize Palestinian statehood, irrespective of any peace process with Israel. Netanyahu will then state Israel’s case to the Assembly.

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“You will hear a forceful enunciation of Israel’s narrative, and its desire for peace with the Palestinians and its Arab neighbors,” an Israeli official said.

Netanyahu’s message would be one that a majority of Israelis would be able to stand behind, the official said.

Abbas will likely receive a much better reception than Netanyahu, because the General Assembly, and international public opinion, favors Palestinian statehood.

But Israelis are cautiously optimistic that months of hard diplomatic work has paid off, and that in the UN body where it counts, the Security Council, they have thwarted the Palestinian bid for UN membership.

The US, one of five countries in the 15-member body with veto power, has promised to use it if need be, to thwart the PA’s bid.

But as the Palestinians prepare to hand in a formal request to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday, Israel is hoping that the Palestinians do not have the requisite support of nine council members needed to pass the request.

Israel is hopeful that aside from the US, countries such as France, Germany, the United Kingdom and Colombia will oppose the Palestinian resolution. It is also likely that Gabon and Nigeria could be swayed as well.

An Israeli official said countries have begun to realize that approving the membership bid of a state that is in the midst of a conflict sets a dangerous precedent for negotiated solutions in any conflict worldwide.

But Israelis left nothing to chance, and on Thursday, continued to lobby countries both on and off the Security Council.

Separately, Israel is also concerned that the PA could ask the UN General Assembly to upgrade its status to that of an observer nation; a move which would increase its status as a state, and expand on the rights available to it.

On Thursday, in his New York hotel room, Netanyahu met with South Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla Miranda and Portuguese Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho.

On Wednesday night, he met with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for close to two hours; that followed an almost hour long meeting with President Barack Obama. Netanyahu also spoke on Wednesday with Ban.

Obama and the Quartet are still hopeful that they will find a way to break the impasse and bring the Palestinians back to the negotiating table with Israel.

France has put forward a new year-long timetable for a renewed peace process.

Israel has repeatedly called on the Palestinians to negotiate.

Initially the Palestinians had refused to speak with Israel until it halted all Jewish construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. But now it is possible that statehood would open the door to renewed talks.

As of Thursday, however, no breakthrough had been found.

In New York, Ben Rhodes, deputy US national security adviser for strategic communication, told reporters that he didn’t believe the two sides were that far apart.

“When you look at the basis that the president laid out for negotiations on the issues of security and territory, it’s the belief of the president that the parties are not that far apart.

“That’s precisely why he laid out, again, those principles as a basis for negotiation, and that actually, the differences between the parties can be bridged and are not as wide as the atmosphere may suggest and that, therefore, it’s both necessary and worth the effort of pursuing direct negotiations because they hold out the promise of achieving a Palestinian state,” Rhodes said.

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