Ban Ki-moon (R) meets with Mahmud Abbas
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (R) meets with Mahmud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority at the United Nations in New York. Abbas was Monday on a collision course with Israel and the US, vowing to apply for UN membership for a Palestinian state this week but warning of "difficult times" ahead for his people. © Timothy A. Clary - AFP
Ban Ki-moon (R) meets with Mahmud Abbas
Nasser Abu Bakr, AFP
Last updated: February 6, 2012

Palestinians seek date with freedom at UN

Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas was Monday on a collision course with Israel and the US, vowing to apply for UN membership for a Palestinian state this week but warning of "difficult times" ahead for his people.

Flying in the face of strong opposition, Abbas met with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to tell him he would go ahead with the controversial move on Friday despite mounting international pressure to put off the attempt.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is due to hold talks on Wednesday with US President Barack Obama and will address the General Assembly on Friday, called for a meeting with Abbas to relaunch "direct negotiations."

Frustrated by lack of progress in the stymied Middle East peace process, the Palestinians are planning to force the issue to the top of the world agenda in the hope of breaking the impasse.

"We are looking for this week being a week that produces an outcome that we can use to reaffirm our cause and bring us closer to our date with freedom," Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad said after talks with Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere.

But Abbas warned as he arrived in the city that "the Palestinian people and their leadership will pass through very difficult times after the Palestinian approach to the United Nations through the Security Council."

There are around 120 nations which have already either recognized the state of Palestine or said they would be in favor of such a move.

Stoere said donor nations meeting on Sunday had "concluded that the Palestinian institutions are now above the threshold for running a state."

But he highlighted concerns about "the vulnerability of the economy due to the effects of the occupation on the ground... There's a shortfall for 2011 which we need to cover."

"Were there a state, the Palestinians could run it, that's the bottom line," Stoere added.

Abbas met Ban Monday after arriving in New York to join 130 heads of state and government attending the annual UN General Assembly. Obama arrived in the city hours later.

The Israeli prime minister, set to arrive Wednesday, has said the UN bid is doomed to fail and that the Palestinians would ultimately seek renewed talks.

Israel and the United States insist that only direct negotiations can resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and the United States has threatened to veto any approach by the Palestinians to the UN Security Council.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted there was intensive US diplomacy going on behind the scenes.

The United States is engaged in "extremely intensive" diplomacy to resolve the showdown over the Palestinian bid to win UN membership as a state, she told reporters.

"We continue to believe and are pressing the point that the only way to a two-state solution, which is what we support and want to see happen, is through negotiations," she added.

Earlier White House spokesman Jay Carney said: "We remain where we were on the inadvisability of unilateral actions that will bring the Palestinians no closer to the statehood they seek."

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe warned of the risk of an "explosion of violence" in the Middle East if the Palestinian conflict is not resolved, saying the Palestinian status quo was "neither acceptable nor tenable."

"The relaunch of the peace process is needed," Juppe told the Council on Foreign Relations think-tank in New York.

He was to meet with Abbas later Monday. "I will ask him what is his strategy? Going to the Council of Security and what after that? We have to avoid such a confrontation. We have to find a balanced solution," Juppe said.

Abbas was also to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

The United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations make up the diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East, whose envoy Tony Blair is seeking a statement that would advance recognition of a Palestinian state while drawing the Palestinians back into direct talks.

"I think there is a way of avoiding a confrontation," the former British prime minister said Sunday.

Israel says the UN bid is a Palestinian attempt to circumvent direct negotiations, which ground to a halt in September 2010 after Israel ended a moratorium on settlement construction in the occupied territories.

If the Palestinians do not secure nine votes from the 15 members, any resolution would fail and the US veto would not be necessary.

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