A senior U.S. diplomatic team is meeting with Israeli and Palestinian officials in what is widely seen as a last-ditch effort to broker direct peace talks and avoid a confrontation over Palestinian statehood at the United Nations later this month. U.S. officials said Tuesday that a statehood move, over Israel’s objections, would set back peace efforts.
Officials say the dispatch of the U.S. team was preceded by a telephone appeal from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to have an open mind about the American diplomatic initiative.
The Obama administration is trying to broker an early agreement by the parties to resume direct peace talks and avoid an angry statehood clash at the United Nations later this month. The United States would veto any request in the U.N. Security Council to make a Palestinian state a new member country of the world body.
But Palestinians say they are determined to press ahead with a vote to elevate their U.N. observer status in the General Assembly, where the United States has no veto.
U.S. officials say such a move would increase Israel’s political isolation, inflame regional tensions and set back hopes for Palestinian statehood, which to be viable, would require Israel’s concurrence.
State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the mission of U.S. envoys David Hale and Dennis Ross is to avoid a “bad scenario” when the new U.N. General Assembly convenes in New York later this month.
“We are going to continue to work right up till the U.N. General Assembly, if necessary, to get these parties back to the table," she said. "And we’ll continue to work afterwards. This is where we are focused. And as you know, we will continue to oppose any one-sided actions at the U.N.; and we’re making that clear to both sides.”
White House Middle East adviser Ross and Hale met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Tuesday.
Hale, who succeeded George Mitchell as U.S. Middle East envoy in May, goes on to the West Bank city of Ramallah on Wednesday to meet with Abbas and other Palestinian officials.
U.S. sponsored direct Middle East peace talks broke down last year.
The New York Times reported Sunday that the Obama administration is trying to lure the parties back to negotiations with proposals derived from President Obama’s Middle East message in May, which called for a two-state solution based on Israel’s pre-1967 borders.
The newspaper said the new plan would be issued in a statement by the Middle East Quartet - which includes Russia, the European Union and the United Nations as well as the United States. It would be aimed at discouraging potential votes for the Palestinians in the General Assembly and persuading President Abbas to step back from pursuing U.N. action.
Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Clinton and Abbas had a good conversation on Monday and that the secretary of state asked the Palestinian chief to “receive the U.S. team with open ears.”
A top adviser to Abbas, Yasser Abed Rabbo, said Tuesday there is little the United States can do to change Palestinian plans and that they are going to the United Nations “regardless of objections or pressure.”