News / Middle East

    Palestinian Official: Abbas Stays Course on UN Membership Bid

    Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas listens to US President Barack Obama's remarks during the 66th session of the General Assembly at United Nations headquarters, New York, September 21, 2011.
    Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas listens to US President Barack Obama's remarks during the 66th session of the General Assembly at United Nations headquarters, New York, September 21, 2011.

    A senior Palestinian official says President Mahmoud Abbas will formally ask the U.N. Security Council to recognize Palestine as a full member of the world body on Friday, despite U.S. President Barack Obama's threat to veto the move.

    The Palestinian Authority news agency Wafa quotes Abbas aide Yasser Abed Rabbo as saying Thursday the Palestinian president believes the bid for U.N. membership will not prevent serious peace negotiations with Israel.

    U.S. officials say President Obama told Abbas that Washington will veto the Palestinian bid if it comes to a vote in the Security Council. The two leaders met Wednesday on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly session in New York.

    In a speech to the assembly on Wednesday, Obama said the path to achieving a sovereign Palestinian state is direct negotiations between the two sides, not "statements and resolutions at the United Nations."

    U.S. and European diplomats in New York were engaged in last-minute discussions to try avoid a diplomatic confrontation over the expected Palestinian membership bid and to contain the damage if the Palestinians proceed with it.

    Abed Rabbo acknowledged that the Security Council will take some time to consider the Palestinian application, but said Abbas' government will not accept any extension to the statutory period for council deliberations.

    In his General Assembly speech, Obama empathized with Israel's struggle in a region with hostile neighbors, saying the Jewish people "carry the burden of centuries of exile and persecution" and "forged a successful state in their historic homeland."

    He made no mention of Palestinian grievances including Israel's occupation and settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim for a future state.  Hundreds of Palestinians protested Obama's speech in the West Bank towns of Ramallah and Nablus on Thursday, holding anti-Obama signs and accusing him of being biased toward Israel.

    The number two Republican and Democratic lawmakers in the House of Representatives warned that Congress "likely will reconsider" U.S. aid to the Palestinians and other aspects of bilateral relations if Mr. Abbas requests a U.N. vote on statehood. Republican Eric Cantor and Democrat Steny Hoyer made the comment in an article published Thursday in the New York Daily News.

    In a show of support for the Palestinians, a U.N. expert on the human rights situation in the Palestinian territories urged U.N. members to recognize what he calls the "reality of Palestinian statehood."

    In a statement released Thursday, Richard Falk says the Palestinian U.N. membership bid is a "momentous occasion" for the international community to respond to a "legacy of injustice" toward Palestinians under what he calls Israel's "oppressive occupation."

    Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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