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US ready to fight UN bid to bitter end

Palestinians take part in a protest marking the 63rd anniversary of the
"Nakba" (catastrophe) in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on May 12, 2011.
[MaanImages/Luay Sababa]
WASHINGTON (AFP) -- The United States has decided to fight to the bitter end to convince the Palestinians to abandon their bid for UN membership, despite the rather small chance that the battle will succeed.

"We want to leave no stone unturned in our effort to get these parties back to the table," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Tuesday as two US envoys headed to the Middle East for talks with Israel and the Palestinians.

David Hale, a special US envoy for the Middle East, and White House aide Dennis Ross are to hold talks on Wednesday and Thursday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

Their previous trip, just last week, yielded no results.

For weeks, Washington has deployed its entire diplomatic arsenal to try to persuade the Palestinians not to submit a formal request to become the 194th member of the United Nations, in the face of US and Israeli opposition.

The United States has repeatedly said that only direct talks between the two sides can lead to genuine Palestinian statehood, and the UN bid -- expected on Sept. 20 -- will only raise tensions.

This week, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and former British leader Tony Blair, who has been the special envoy of the so-called Middle East Quartet -- the United States, Russia, United Nations and the EU -- since 2007.

Clinton is due to speak with Abbas again before week's end.

"The only way of getting a lasting solution is through direct negotiations between the parties, and the route to that lies in Jerusalem and Ramallah, not in New York," she said Tuesday.

"We are redoubling our efforts, not only with both sides but with a broad cross-section of the international community, to create a sustainable platform for negotiations."

Direct negotiations have been stalled for nearly a year. The Palestinians have vowed to not resume talks while Israel builds in annexed Arab east Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied West Bank.

The Palestinians have two options -- if they present their bid in the UN Security Council, they will surely face a US veto.

If they go before the General Assembly, where they could ask to upgrade their representation from current observer status to non-member state, they have a very good chance of success, as Washington has one vote and no veto.

US President Barack Obama on Monday called the Palestinian bid for UN recognition a "distraction" and said it would not result in viable statehood.

"What happens in New York City can occupy a lot of press attention but is not going to change, actually, what is happening on the ground until the Israelis and Palestinians sit down," he told reporters.

Washington and its European allies have worked all summer on a Quartet initiative that could break the impasse.

Nathan Brown, a Middle East expert at George Washington University, said he is skeptical about any deal that could be reached.

"My sense of Palestinian politics is that any concessions or guarantees related to negotiations are not likely to be regarded as having much value, since serious negotiations of any sort seem very remote right now," he said.

Aaron David Miller, a veteran US Middle East peace negotiator, said it is unclear what the United States is aiming for.

"If the objective is to create a formula for direct negotiations and nothing new has changed ... in terms of what the parties would accept, I think it would be easier, frankly, to put up with the UN resolution, because I think that's an easier choice than resuming negotiations that fail," Miller said.

"We may simply want to be perceived as going the extra mile, to do everything possible, to demonstrate that we understand how important this is and we want to try, no stone unturned, to make it come out OK."

Miller offered two possible explanations for why Hale and Ross, and not Clinton herself, have been dispatched to the region.

He suggested that either the United States sees the Palestinian bid as a foregone conclusion and wants to maintain Clinton's credibility, or it has sent the pair to launch "phase one" of a last-minute diplomatic offensive.

In the latter case, Clinton would be sent in for "phase two," Miller said.

US ready to fight UN bid to bitter end

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