Europe, U.S. in Mideast peace push before U.N. showdown

JERUSALEM Wed Sep 14, 2011 11:27pm BST

A Palestinian worker inspects a banner as it prints in the West Bank city of Ramallah September 12, 2011. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

A Palestinian worker inspects a banner as it prints in the West Bank city of Ramallah September 12, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Mohamad Torokman

Related Topics

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - U.S. envoys raced on Wednesday to try to revive Middle East peace talks and avert a Palestinian bid for United Nations membership, but a U.N. official said it was probably too late to stop the move opposed by Israel and the United States.

U.S. Middle East peace envoy David Hale and senior White House aide Dennis Ross, who met both sides last week, planned to hold talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later in the day and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday.

Their visit appeared to be a last-ditch effort to persuade Abbas to abandon plans to seek to upgrade the Palestinians' U.N. status, a step the Western-backed leader has said he is taking in the absence of peace negotiations.

"There is a lot of intensive diplomacy on a formula that could avoid a diplomatic train wreck, and it is still going on," a senior Israeli government official said.

Israel and the United States have urged Abbas to return to talks rather than pursue unilateral steps at the world body during the General Assembly session that begins on Monday.

Abbas broke off those U.S. .-sponsored negotiations soon after they began last September, after Netanyahu refused to extend a 10-month partial moratorium on Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank, land Israel occupied in a 1967 war and which Palestinians seek as part of a future state.

Robert Serry, the United Nations' special coordinator for the Middle East, said that based on his contacts with the Palestinians, he believed they would not abandon their U.N. bid.

"I feel that is now too late to stop the Palestinian train, so to say, which is now on its way to New York," Serry said in a speech at a counter-terrorism conference near Tel Aviv.

Serry said he was involved with international mediators "to try to ensure there is also life after New York," comments that appeared to hold out the prospect of renewing peace talks even if the Palestinians follow through with their U.N. initiative.

In another sign of international concern over a looming showdown at the United Nations, the European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, met Netanyahu, Defence Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

Ashton later said she had extended her trip to meet again with Netanyahu, at the Israeli leader's request.

"I hope that in the coming days (that) what we'll be able to achieve together will be something that enables the negotiations to start," she said.

"GRAVE CONSEQUENCES"

Lieberman, who leads a far-right party in Netanyahu's governing coalition, warned the Palestinians of "grave consequences" if they pressed ahead with plans to upgrade their U.N. status, currently at observer level without voting rights.

He did not elaborate, but other ministers have suggested withholding funds from the Palestinians or annexing settlements.

Only the Security Council can approve a bid for full U.N. membership and the United States has said it would veto it.

But Palestinians could seek upgraded status as a "non-member state," requiring a simple majority in the 193-nation General Assembly. Approval would open the way for access to U.N. agencies and potentially direct recourse to the International Criminal Court to pursue cases against Israel.

On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington hoped to "get the parties back into a frame of mind and a process where they will actually begin negotiating again."

Mohammad Shtayyeh, a senior aide to Abbas, has said Palestinians would listen to any proposal but suggested the current U.S. push had come too late.

A revival of peace talks could also be complicated by Netanyahu's opposition to U.S. President Barack Obama's proposal to base the borders of Israel and a future Palestinian state on pre-1967 war lines with mutually agreed land swaps.

Netanyahu has called the 1967 lines, in which Israel was some 10 miles (16 km) wide at its narrowest point, indefensible.

Israeli President Shimon Peres had proposed a compromise formula to Netanyahu, political sources said.

Peres, the sources said, suggested that Netanyahu publicly accept the concept of establishing a Palestinian state on territory equal in size to the West Bank and Gaza Strip -- a proposal that would allow the 1967 lines to be redrawn.

Netanyahu rejected the idea, the sources said.

(Editing by Jon Boyle)

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (2)
Wvandamme wrote:
Peres is a man in the tradition of Ben Gurion. State publicly something that in private is known to be never accepted. Talk peace, make war. The Zionist right always said war and they made war. Peres as Ben Gurion, is more shrewed but as evil as is the Zionist right. Therefore Peres says he accepts Palestine but deep inside, in private he will never do.

Sep 14, 2011 4:21pm BST  --  Report as abuse
CDale wrote:
What an extraordinary soap-opera with its star performer strutting centre stage mouthing the following script:

 No Palestinian state, anywhere, in accordance with Likud’s charter!
 No lifting of restrictions of access to/from Gaza by air, sea and land!
 No negotiations for peace!
 No repatriation of 500,000 illegal settlers in the occupied West Bank!
 No cessation of inducing further Israelis to become illegal settlers!
 No withdrawal of the illegal blockade of 1.6 million in Gaza.
 No cessation of trying to change a democratically elected regime!
 No cessation of demanding US$3 billion from America each year!
 No cessation of multi billion dollar arms shipments from the US including further F16/F15 strike aircraft to supplement the 320 Israel has already, together with helicopter gunships, missiles, rockets and cluster bombs etc etc !
 No cessation of acquiring more German nuclear armed submarines
 No lifting of threats to annex the occupied territories!
 No signing of the nuclear non proliferation treaty!
 No inspection of its secret nuclear arsenal by the IAEA!
 No cessation of Israeli arms shipments to regimes worldwide!
 No apologies for killing 6 unarmed passengers on the high seas!
 No friends now anywhere, save for AIPAC and its associates

Sep 14, 2011 10:47pm BST  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.