TEL AVIV // The European Union's foreign policy chief yesterday cast doubt on whether the United Nations will proceed with a Palestinian push for the 192-member body to vote in September on backing Palestinian statehood.
Catherine Ashton, speaking in an interview with Haaretz newspaper after a visit to the Middle East, said the EU has been making major efforts, so far unsuccessfully, to press the Israelis and the Palestinians to resume negotiations before the possible UN vote.
The EU's top diplomat told the newspaper that the wording of the resolution is likely to be decisive in whether a vote takes place.
Baroness Ashton's statements are the latest move clouding prospects for a possible UN vote on the issue. Palestinians have until mid-July to submit the draft resolution, which they hope will help them obtain UN membership and achieve recognition as an independent state within the borders of territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
Israel, worried such a vote may isolate it in the international arena, has launched a diplomatic campaign against the vote, aiming to persuade as many countries as possible to reject the resolution or abstain from voting.
The Palestinian leadership has indicated in recent weeks that it may be prepared to back down from its attempt to spur the UN vote. Yesterday, a Palestinian official who spoke on condition of anonymity told the Associated Press that the Palestinians may drop their demand for Israel to completely freeze settlement construction if Israel accepts a recent peace plan floated by Barack Obama, the US president.
Talks between the two sides have been suspended since Israel rejected the Palestinian call last September to extend a temporary freeze on construction in West Bank Jewish settlements.
Lady Ashton's comments shed light on the possible issues that may be debated when representatives of the so-called Middle East Quartet - the EU, US, UN and Russia - meet in the coming days.
Before arriving in the Middle East, Lady Ashton had sent a letter to the Quartet members, calling on them to adopt the main elements of the framework that was endorsed by Mr Obama in a speech last month. Most notably, the address highlighted that the talks on the future borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on Israel's pre-1967 frontiers. Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the 1967 war, and the Palestinians want those two regions as part of their future state, with East Jerusalem as the capital.
Lady Ashton's statements add to speculation in the Israeli media that the EU may offer the Palestinians several concessions relating to peace negotiations and in return the Palestinians will drop their bid to have the UN vote on their resolution.
Unidentified Israeli officials yesterday were quoted in the Israeli press as expressing concern that the EU may promise the Palestinians not to press them to recognise Israel as a Jewish state, a key Israeli demand. The officials added that they were worried that the EU may also compromise on another Israeli demand, which is to pressure the Palestinians during the negotiations to hammer out the exact details of what security arrangements would exist between Israel and the future Palestine.