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Palestinians relentless in push for UN membership, Israel warns of dire consequences
UNITED NATIONS (AP) ' The Palestinians relentlessly knocked on diplomatic doors at the United Nations on Tuesday trying to sell their case for international recognition, as Israel's prime minister issued dire warnings against hasty action as he boarded his jet for New York.
The issue of the unilateral Palestinian declaration of statehood, born of decades of frustration and failed negotiations with Israel, has consumed diplomats who are gathering for Wednesday's opening of the annual U.N. General Assembly ministerial meeting.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has rejected all attempts to steer him away from formally submitting an application for full U.N. membership. He plans to submit the application on Friday when he speaks to assembled world leaders.
For his part, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a meeting with members of his hardline Likud Party before leaving Jerusalem late Tuesday, vowed to speak "the truth" in New York ' "the truth of a people that wants peace, a nation that was attacked time after time and that is being attacked time after time by those that don't oppose our policies but rather our very existence."
He said he would warn world leaders against prematurely establishing a Palestinian state when many issues in the conflict must still be resolved. He did not elaborate, saying this would be the focus of his speech to the U.N. on Friday, scheduled shortly after Abbas'.
President Barack Obama's diplomatic team has repeatedly said the United States, Israel's closest ally, would exercise its Security Council veto should the Palestinians win the necessary nine of 15 votes in the powerful body to adopt a resolution recommending U.N. membership for Palestine.
While the U.S. which has said it will vote no, the other 14 members of the U.N. Security Council have not publicly declared their positions. China, Russia, India, Lebanon, South Africa and Brazil were all expected to vote yes. Germany was expected to vote no with the United States or abstain. Still unknown were the positions of France, Britain, Bosnia, Colombia, Gabon, Nigeria, Portugal with many saying they needed to see the text of a draft resolution before making a decision.
U.S. officials are working at a furious pace as they attempt to lure the Palestinians back to negotiations and to avoid the need to cast a veto ' a measure certain to inflame anti-American sentiment in the Arab world.
U.S. and other diplomats say the European Union, supported by the U.S., now was trying to work out wording of an agreement that could avert the U.N. showdown over Palestine. There was no sign, however, that either Israel or the Palestinians will agree.
Officials say Israel is being asked to accept its pre-1967 War borders with land swaps as the basis for a two-state solution. The Palestinians would essentially have to recognize Israel's Jewish character.
Those issues remain sticking points. Officials say there is also disagreement among the mediators as Russia is finds some elements unacceptable.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the diplomatic negotiations.
The seemingly endless road toward peace in the Middle East, a caustic and seemingly insoluble problem, has found its way into the fiery partisanship of American politics as the races heats up for next year's presidential vote. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the front-runner for the Republican nomination to challenge Obama, lambasted the president in a speech Friday during a campaign stop in New York.
"We would not be here today at this very precipice of such a dangerous move if the Obama policy in the Middle East wasn't naive and arrogant, misguided and dangerous," Perry said, referring to Obama's insistence early in his presidency that Israel stop constructing Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, territory that would form the core of an independent Palestine.
The political give-and-take was equally fierce among diplomats clustering at the U.N.
Among his many stops on Tuesday, Abbas met with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. France is home to an estimated 5 to 6 million Muslims, the largest such population in Western Europe. Their family backgrounds mostly are traced to former French colonies in North Africa.
Yasser Arafat, who led the Palestinian movement for almost 40 years, died in a military hospital outside Paris on Nov. 11, 2004 after what French doctors called a massive brain hemorrhage.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, who also was in New York, told Europe-1 radio in Paris that his country still was working to get Mideast peace talks restarted before the United Nations faces a vote. "The status quo is untenable," Juppe said. "The only way to settle the Israeli-Palestinian problem is direct negotiations."
Abbas also met with British Foreign Secretary William Hague, Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby and Lebanese leader Michel Suleiman.
"I believe that first of all the Palestinians are entitled to be considered as a state," Elaraby said. "They enjoy the same basis as Israel . . . and they're entitled to declare the state and they have declared it and the international community has to react to that positively."
Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, sat down with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. Mideast envoy David Hale. Blair serves as the point man for the so called Quartet ' the U.S., the U.N., the European Union and Russia ' that has tried to shepherd the Israelis and Palestinian back to peace talks.
"We know that they (the U.S.) will use the veto against our demand in the Security Council. They've told us that many times," Erekat said.
Associated Press writers Amy Teibel and Ian Deitch in Jerusalem, Karin Laub in Ramallah, West Bank, Matthew Lee and Bradley Klapper in New York, Edith M. Lederer and Anita Snow at the United Nations, Diaa Hadid in Jerusalem and Julie Pace in Washington, D.C., contributed reporting.