David Kirkpatrick
The New York Times
September 13, 2011 - 12:00am

A top negotiator for the Palestinian Authority said Tuesday night that its leadership was weighing the strong urging of both the Arab states and the Europeans to turn to the General Assembly of the United Nations — and not its Security Council — in a bid to win international recognition as a state.

The negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said that at a strategy session at the Arab League, the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, “said that if we receive something from the Arabs and the Europeans we will put it to the leadership to study it.” But Mr. Erekat said that with the expected United Nations vote coming within days, the Palestinian Authority had not yet committed to a course of action.

He also said that Mr. Abbas would fly to Amman, Jordan, on Wednesday for a meeting about the issue with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the diplomat who represents the European Union, United States, United Nations and Russia — the so-called Quartet — on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Mr. Blair and the Europeans “said they have some ideas and we are waiting to see the ideas formulated,” Mr. Erekat said. “We don’t intend to confront the U.S. or anyone else for that matter,” he added. “We want to present the United Nations vote as an opportunity for all of us to preserve the two-state solution.”

At the same time, Nabil el Araby, the secretary general of the Arab League, said after meeting with the Palestinian leadership that “it is obvious that the Palestinian authority and the Arab countries are leaning towards going to the General Assembly,” though he added that the Arab League was awaiting Mr. Abbas’s final decision within two days.

Turning to the General Assembly would all but assure the Palestinians a victory in the vote and an embarrassment for Israel, but it would also provide only a limited United Nations recognition, as a non-voting state. Only the Security Council can provide full membership with voting rights, but turning to the Security Council would also mean almost certain defeat. And the United States has indicated that in support of Israel it would veto a proposal in the Security Council as a diversion from peace talks, and casting such a veto against broad international support would be an awkward setback for American diplomacy in the Arab world.

The General Assembly option, however limited, could still pave the way for the Palestinians to join dozens of United Nations bodies and conventions, including the International Criminal Court. That would enable the Palestinians to file charges against Israel for alleged violations of international law, an outcome that Israel dreads.

Israel and the United States have both argued that turning to the United Nations is a distraction if not a departure from peace talks, turning away from the path laid out in the Oslo peace accords. American and Israeli diplomats argue that only direct talks with Israel can lead to true statehood, in reality and not just on United Nations paper. President Obama has called the United Nations bid “counterproductive.”

But Mr. Abbas, the Palestinian president, and his Arab allies argue Israel’s intransigence has already rendered the steps outlined by the Oslo peace accord ineffective, and they say United Nations recognition is a step toward more productive, state-to-state negotiations over boundaries and the like.

Speaking at a news conference to close the 136th session of the Arab League, Mr. Araby endorsed the view that the United Nations vote “will change the Israel-Palestinian conflict: it will turn from a conflict about existence to a conflict about borders.” He called the vote an important step toward a two-state solution to the conflict.

Some European diplomats have urged the Palestinians to turn to the General Assembly because they argued its approval was more likely to facilitate renewed negotiations than a confrontation at the Security Council. Catherine Ashton, the top diplomat for the European Union, was in Cairo on Monday to meet with the Palestinian leaders as well. Although she has said in the past that Europeans are divided on the issue, Mr. Araby said in his comments that she expected strong European support for the General Assembly vote.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister of Turkey — - a longstanding ally of Israel that recently broke with Israel — - was also in Cairo on Tuesday, and he repeatedly emphasized shared grievances with Israel as he sought to enhance Turkey’s position in the changing Arab world.

In a speech to the Arab League, Mr. Erdogan called support of the United Nations vote to recognize Palestine a moral imperative. “Recognition of the Palestinian state is the only correct way,” he said. “It is not a choice but an obligation.”


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