Ma'an News Agency (Analysis)
September 19, 2011 - 12:00am

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) -- Top Palestinian and Israeli leaders held talks in New York amid frantic diplomatic efforts to avoid a showdown over a Palestinian bid to seek full UN membership as a state.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak held an unannounced meeting a day ahead of the UN General Assembly, which is being dominated by a Palestinian bid for UN recognition that the United States has threatened to veto.

Fayyad told reporters that the two had discussed "security issues" and the Palestinian Authority's "readiness to govern." Israeli officials did not comment on the meeting.

Amid a gathering diplomatic scramble, officials from the diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East -- the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations -- held their own meeting.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held talks with EU foreign affairs representative Catherine Ashton. With the United States determined to stop full state recognition, Clinton said the two were discussing "the way forward."

Quartet envoy Tony Blair held separate talks with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. President Mahmoud Abbas will hold his first meeting of the week with Ban on Monday.

Blair expressed hope that a deal could be reached. "I think there is a way of avoiding a confrontation," the former British prime minister said.

Diplomats said that with so few details available about the Palestinian demand for recognition, frantic talks were likely to continue right up to Abbas's official request to the UN on Friday.

Frustrated by the lack of progress after a year of frozen Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Abbas has said he will ask the UN Security Council to approve full UN membership for a Palestinian state.

The United States has said it will use its right as a permanent council member to veto any resolution backing the Palestinians.

And Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that any Palestinian bid through the Security Council will fail, expressing hope that the Palestinians would "come to their senses" and drop their unilateral bid for statehood.

The United States and Israel insist that only direct talks can set up an accord to create a Palestinian state.

If a veto is wielded, the Palestinians could then go straight to the UN General Assembly to seek an elevated observer status. It would almost certainly get a majority of the 193 members and no veto is possible.

The United States is trying to convince Security Council members to oppose or abstain in any resolution. If it does not secure nine votes from the 15 members, any resolution would fail and the US veto would not be necessary, reducing any embarrassment 12 months after US President Barack Obama said he wanted to see a Palestinian state at the United Nations within a year.

Britain, France and Germany will have decisive votes on the council. All of their UN envoys say that no decision has been taken on how to vote because they have not seen a Palestinian resolution.

The Palestinians' willingness to return to direct talks will play a central role in their decision, envoys added. Diplomats say the Palestinians are resisting putting any mention of "direct talks" in their resolution.

General Assembly recognition of a Palestinian state would allow increased international rights, however. Some officials say the Palestinians could become a signatory to the International Criminal Court and launch a complaint against Israeli military action.

Quartet envoy Blair is seeking a formula that would allow for greater recognition of a Palestinian state and a path back to direct talks which could satisfy the United States.

"What we will be looking for over the next few days is a way of putting together something that allows their claims and legitimate aspirations for statehood to be recognized whilst actually renewing the only thing that's going to produce a state which is a negotiation directly between the two sides," Blair told ABC television.

He added that a Quartet statement he is trying to produce this week could set out a "time-frame" for negotiations and added that an accord "could even happen in a way that helps the process of negotiations and statehood."


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