Karin Laub
The Associated Press
June 28, 2011 - 12:00am

RAMALLAH, West Bank — U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state would largely be a symbolic victory and would not change the reality of Israeli occupation, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said Tuesday.

Fayyad's skepticism, voiced in an interview with The Associated Press, set him apart from the rest of the Palestinian leadership. Earlier this week, President Mahmoud Abbas and top officials in his Fatah movement formally decided to seek U.N. membership for a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, the territories Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war.

Abbas aide Nabil Shaath told reporters Tuesday that the recognition request would be submitted in September — dispelling speculation about a mid-July deadline — and that the process might take several weeks.

He and others have said that if an expected U.S. veto in the Security Council blocks full U.N. membership, the Palestinians will ask the General Assembly to accept Palestine as a non-member observer state — a status he said could grant the Palestinians membership in U.N.-related institutions.

After obtaining General Assembly recognition, the Palestinians might go back to the Security Council in hopes that a show of broad international support would persuade the U.S. to drop the veto idea, he said.

Beyond such procedural changes, the Palestinians hope U.N. recognition will give them more clout in future dealings with Israel and improve prospects for successful negotiations. U.N. membership "would increase our resolve to continue a peace process that would bring about a two-state solution," Shaath said.

Fayyad, a political independent who has focused on trying to build a state from the ground up, expressed doubts about the U.N. campaign and warned against raising the expectations of ordinary Palestinians.

"It is not going to be a dramatic result," said Fayyad, who is not involved in decision-making on foreign policy, but enjoys broad support in the international community. He said he wanted to downplay expectations for something dramatic to change if it does happen.

Asked if anything would change on the ground after U.N. recognition, he said: "My answer to you is no. Unless Israel is part of that consensus, it won't because to me, it is about ending Israeli occupation."

Both Israel and the U.S. strongly object to the Palestinians' attempt to seek U.N. recognition, urging them instead to resume peace negotiations. Abbas and his aides believe it will be impossible to reach a deal with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and suspect he seeks negotiations simply as a stalling tactic.

Shaath said Tuesday the Palestinians would consider dropping the U.N. bid only if Israel unexpectedly decides to freeze settlement construction in the occupied territories and recognizes the pre-1967 line as the basis for border talks. Israel has rejected both demands.

With negotiations stalled since late 2008, the Palestinians have developed alternative tactics in hopes of improving their leverage vis-a-vis Israel and generating international support and goodwill.

Fayyad, an economist and former International Monetary Fund official, has led the nation-building drive, backed by hundreds of millions of dollars a year in international aid, while Abbas and others have lobbied individual countries to recognize a Palestinian state. Shaath said Tuesday that 116 countries have already granted recognition and that he expects about two dozen more to do so in the near future.

Fayyad has been in office since being appointed in June 2007 by Abbas, following the takeover of Gaza by the rival Islamic militant Hamas. Fayyad's authority is largely limited to the West Bank, while Hamas continues to control Gaza.

In recent weeks, the two political camps made progress toward reconciliation with a power-sharing deal in principle. However, attempts to form an interim unity government have stalled because of arguments over its composition.

Abbas has said he wants Fayyad to continue in the job until elections are held, but Hamas adamantly opposes that choice.

Fayyad is seen as key to maintaining the flow of Western aid. Donor nations would want assurances that their money does not reach Hamas, which is considered to be a terrorist group by Israel and the West.

Fayyad said Tuesday that he does not want to be seen as an obstacle to a unity deal, but noted that he has Abbas' backing. Fayyad suggested he might withdraw from consideration if sniping by his political opponents continues.

"This nonsense about (me) being imposed on anyone has to stop," he said, visibly angry. "And if this continues for any length of time, that would be the moment when I step in and say, enough already, under no condition will I accept to serve."

Fayyad also said he would not serve as finance minister under a different prime minister, bristling at the idea of being kept on because of his strong ties to the donors.

"That would not work ... partly because it would most likely be seen as an attempt by our system to tell the world, here is a face that the donor community has been comfortable with, essentially looking at me more or less as the ATM," he said.

"I am not the ATM for the Palestinian Authority. I never was," he said.


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