Diplomatic drive to prevent PA statehood at UN continues

Blair, Ashton, Ross and Hale make last-ditch attempt to quell PA bid; Netanyahu still undecided whether he will speak before world body at opening session.

Hale and Abbas 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Hale and Abbas 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Even as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was in Cairo on Monday urging the Arab League to move forward with the Palestinian statehood bid, Quartet envoy Tony Blair met Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Monday evening as part of continuing Western efforts to either quell the PA bid, or at least water it down.
Blair, according to Israeli officials, has been extremely active in trying to find a formula that would bring the sides back to the negotiation table and keep the Palestinians from going to the UN.
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In addition, the officials said, Blair is also trying to bridge gaps between the Europeans and the US regarding the formula for getting back to talks.
Differences exist between the US and Europe over whether a Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state should be part of the parameters forming the basis of the future talks, along with a declaration that the negotiations will be based on the pre-1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.
While the US is supportive of having language recognizing Israel as a Jewish state in the formula, the Europeans have not agreed, with one diplomatic official saying the reason is because of a concern that the Palestinians would reject the idea.
Both EU and US statesmen will be meeting with both Israeli and Palestinian officials in the coming days, with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton scheduled to meet Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman on Wednesday, and US envoys Dennis Ross and David Hale coming back to the region later this week for the second time in two weeks.
Meanwhile, in Washington, US President Barack Obama stated clearly that the US would cast its veto in the Security Council against a Palestinian state.
Terming the move at the UN a “distraction,” Obama told a roundtable of Hispanic journalists that the conflict will only be resolved by “Israelis and Palestinians agreeing on something.”
“What happens in New York City can occupy a lot of press attention but is not going to change actually what is happening on the ground until the Israelis and Palestinians sit down,” Obama said on Monday.
Obama said it seemed likely the Palestinians would go to the UN General Assembly and seek to upgrade their status from observer to a non-member state, similar to the status enjoyed by the Vatican.
“We are only one vote in the General Assembly. Clearly there are a lot of countries ready to go with the Palestinians – depending on the resolution,” he said.
“That’s very different than going to the Security Council and it’s true that I have said very publicly that if this were to come to the Security Council, we would object very strongly.”
Obama also warned Israel against responding by withholding the transfer of tax payments to the Palestinian Authority, which would hurt its ability to govern and provide security. Such a move, he said, “would only hurt Israel, not help Israel.”
Withholding the monthly tax payments is only one of a large number of measures Israeli officials are considering in response to the Palestinian UN move, although the government has been extremely careful not to reveal what options it will eventually use.
Susan Rice, the US envoy to the UN, told reporters on Monday that she hoped the Palestinian leadership is considering “the day after.”
“What will happen when whatever show we have in the United Nations is done? What will change in the real world for the Palestinian people? The answer is nothing, sadly. Expectations will have been raised very high.
But the economy will be the economy; the situation on the ground will remain the same situation on the ground. They will not have any more sovereignty, freedom or autonomy than they feel today,” she said.
“Is this going to strengthen the national institutions of an eventual Palestinian state, or potentially cause them to be set back further and weakened? Is this going to create a better day for the people of Palestine, or just create a growing gap between expectation and reality?” In a related development, and one reflecting the uncertainty of what will happen next week at the UN General Assembly, no decision has yet been made whether Netanyahu or President Shimon Peres will speak at the UN. Although logistical arrangements have been made to enable Netanyahu to make a last minute decision to speak to the General Assembly on September 23, a week from Friday, diplomatic officials said Netanyahu will only do so if he believes that his appearance before the world body could have an impact on states still wavering, such as most of the European Union.