US discourages Palestinian statehood declaration

State department describes the step as "not helpful;" as might affect resumption of direct negotiations being worked towards.

Peace talks Sharm el-Sheikh (photo credit: Associated Press)
Peace talks Sharm el-Sheikh
(photo credit: Associated Press)
WASHINGTON - The US State Department labeled a possible unilateral Palestinian declaration of statehood as "not helpful" Friday and discouraged the Palestinian leadership from taking such a step.
"We remain convinced that ultimately the only way that we're going to get a comprehensive peace is through direct negotiations, and anything that might affect those direct negotiations we feel is not helpful and not constructive," US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.
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Toner had been asked about press reports that the Palestinian leadership might go the UN to seek recognition of a Palestinian state, including one report in which Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said the US had agreed to support the Palestinians in that effort if direct talks didn't bear fruit.
"Our goal remains getting both sides back into direct negotiations," Toner said. "Anything that might affect getting both parties back into direct negotiations we would discourage."
The issue of a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood has drawn increasing attention in recent weeks after direct talks hit an impasse at the end of September, when Israel refused to extend a freeze on settlements and the Palestinians refused to continue negotiating without a freeze in place.
Saeb Erakat, a top Palestinian negotiator, was in Washington this week and said Thursday that the possibility of a unilateral declaration of statehood was one Palestinians were considering for the future.
"We're weighing our options," he told reporters. "I'm not specifying timelines." At the same time, he noted that the option of going to the UN had not been raised in his conversations with senior US officials, including US Middle East envoy George Mitchell and senior White House Middle East advisor Dennis Ross.
Erakat stressed that for now the Palestinians were focused on getting direct talks back on track.
Toner also said Friday that the US remains committed to the peace process regardless of the recent losses suffered by the Democratic party, which will turn over the House of Representatives to Republicans, many of which are expected to push back against any efforts by the Obama administration to pressure Israel.
"It is a priority for this administration," Toner said of Middle East peace-making. "It's going to remain a priority for this Administration, and obviously we're going to work hand in glove with Congress to advance direct negotiations and to ultimately reach a settlement."