Ma'an News Agency
September 13, 2011 - 12:00am

Arab foreign ministers agreed in a meeting attended by President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday to marshal support for a Palestinian bid for UN membership this month despite Israeli and US opposition.

Abbas, who backed out of US-sponsored negotiations with Israel because of its settlement construction in occupied Palestinian lands, is expected to make the request when the UN General Assembly opens on September 20.

Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi said in a press conference after the meeting that "consultations and communications will continue in order to reach the goal" of Palestinian UN membership.

Before the meeting, Abbas had meet EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in Cairo, where Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan -- a fervent supporter of the Palestinian cause -- arrived Monday night to begin an "Arab Spring" tour.

Ashton attended part of the meeting, to inform the ministers of the Arab League's Follow Up Committee on the Middle East peace process of the EU's position on the Palestinian bid.

Egypt's official news agency, the Arabic language MENA, reported that Ashton, on leaving the meeting, said the EU supported a Palestinian state achieved through "negotiations."

Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian negotiator, said at the joint press conference with Arabi that UN membership would not preclude negotiations with Israel, blaming Israel's settlement construction for the stalled talks.

"On the contrary [UN membership] lays the foundation for the principle of two states," Erekat said.

He added that a task force set up in a previous Arab ministerial meeting headed by Qatar and including Egypt, Jordan and several other countries would work constantly to lobby international support for UN membership.

Washington said it would veto any bid to the Security Council, arguing that a Palestinian state should be created only through negotiations.

If that happens the Palestinians say they will turn to the General Assembly, where they expect to easily win votes to upgrade their representation from current observer status to non-member state.

Abbas told a Jordanian newspaper the Palestinians would bid for UN membership "despite the obstacles and dangers, including US threats to halt 470 million dollars in annual assistance."

Shaath told Egyptian television the Palestinians expect to garner "more than 160 votes" at the General Assembly and "will continue to knock on the door until we get [full] membership."

Under UN rules, any bid for full membership requires a recommendation from the Security Council and then a two-thirds majority in the 193-member General Assembly.

Non-member status would require only a straight majority in the General Assembly where no veto is possible.

Abbas has already received hefty support Friday from UN chief Ban Ki-moon, who said Palestinian statehood was "long overdue". He received Russia's backing on Monday.

"We will, of course, be voting for any of the Palestinians' proposals," Russia's UN envoy Vitaly Churkin was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

"But I must say that we are not pushing them into it. We are saying that 'Whatever you decide to do, we will support you'," Churkin said.

With Israel and the United States staunchly resisting the Palestinian plan, Europe remains divided.

"What we're very clear about from the European Union is that the way forward is negotiations," Ashton told reporters after meeting Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr.

Ashton, who will head to Israel after the meeting, said the EU wanted to see "the people of Palestine and the people of Israel living side by side in peace and security."

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, meanwhile, urged Abbas to tread carefully in his UN bid, warning that such a strategy could ultimately harm peace efforts, a statement from his office said.

Erdogan will on Tuesday address an expanded Arab League ministerial meeting and meet Egyptian officials.

The Turkish premier will also visit Tunisia and Libya, where popular uprisings such as that in Egypt have toppled longstanding autocratic regimes. He is working to forge stronger ties with Arab nations as Ankara's relations with Israel sour.

Turkey has expelled the Israeli ambassador over the storming by Israeli naval commandos last year of a convoy of ships trying to reach Gaza in defiance of the blockade, killing nine Turks.

Egypt's relations with Israel chilled further after protesters ransacked the Israeli embassy in Cairo overnight Friday, forcing the ambassador to flee in the worst incident since the two countries signed a 1979 peace treaty.

Ties have been strained since the killing of six Egyptian policemen on their common border last month as Israel hunted militants after a deadly attack.


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