CAIRO – In a last-ditch effort to abort a Palestinian effort to win UN recognition of their state, the United States has floated a proposal for renewed peace talks with Israel while working to persuade UN members to drop support for the Palestinian statehood campaign.
“We’re still focused on Plan A,” a senior administration official told The New York Times on Sunday, September 4.
The Palestinians are planning to seek recognition of their new state during the General Assembly meeting on September 20, following the collapse of the peace talks with Israel.
The United States has said that it will veto any request for Palestinian statehood at the UN Security Council.
However, Washington has no enough support to block a vote by the General Assembly to elevate the status of the Palestinians’ nonvoting observer “entity” to that of a nonvoting observer state.
The change would pave the way for the Palestinians to join dozens of United Nations bodies and conventions.
It could also strengthen the Palestinian ability to pursue cases against Israel at the International Criminal Court.
To abort the Palestinian bid, Washington has circulated a proposal – to be issued in a statement by the Quartet – for renewed peace talks with Israel.
The US administration is working on translating the broad principles Obama outlined in May on Israel’s withdrawal to the 1967 borders with mutual land swaps into a concrete roadmap for talks.
Diplomats are also laboring to formulate language that would bridge stubborn differences over how to treat Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and over Israel’s demand for recognition of its status as a Jewish state.
At the same time, the US is trying to narrow the support for the Palestinian statehood bid at the General Assembly.
Last month, the US has issued a formal diplomatic message to more than 70 countries urging them to oppose any unilateral moves by the Palestinians at the UN.
The message argued that a vote would destabilize the region and undermine peace efforts.
“The fact is there are countries who would choose not to do that vote if there was an alternative,” one administration official said.
Peace talks collapsed last year over Israel’s refusal to halt settlement building in the occupied West Bank.
There are more than 164 Jewish settlements in the West Bank, eating up more than 40 percent of the occupied territory.
The international community considers all settlements on the occupied land illegal.
But US officials are worried that a US veto would inflame anti-America sentiments in the Arab region.
“It’s not clear to me how it can be avoided at the moment,” said Ghaith al-Omari, a former Palestinian negotiator who is now executive director of the American Task Force on Palestine in Washington.
“An American veto could inflame emotions and bring anti-American sentiment to the forefront across the region.”
US officials fear that a US veto would trigger a wave of anger in the Palestinian territories and the Arab region at a time when the region is already in tumult.
Officials are also worried that avoiding the use of the veto power would alienate Israel and its political supporters in the United States.
“If you put the alternative out there, then you’ve suddenly just changed the circumstances and changed the dynamic,” a senior administration official involved in the flurry of diplomacy said.
“And that’s what we’re trying very much to do.”
Some US officials describe the Palestinian bid for UN recognition as very alarming.
“The most powerful argument is that this will provoke a Palestinian awakening, that there will be a new violence and that we’ll be blamed,” said Martin S. Indyk, a former American ambassador to Israel.