As Palestinians push for statehood, US tries to keep peace process alive

The president is seeking a statement from the European Union, Russia, and the UN – that would set the path for a resumption of direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority no matter what happens Friday.

John Minchillo/AP
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, second from left, meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, far right, in a bilateral meeting ahead of the UN General Assembly, Monday, Sept. 19, in the Manhattan borough of New York.

The United States is shifting its attempt to salvage the Israeli-Palestinian peace process into overdrive, with both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton putting the issue at the top of their agendas as they meet with other world leaders at the United Nations in New York this week.

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has appeared undeterred in his intention to seek full UN membership for an independent Palestine when he speaks to the world body Friday. So the focus now, according to US officials, is to arrive at a statement from world leaders who shepherd the peace process – the so-called “Quartet” of the US, the European Union, Russia, and the UN – that would set the path for a resumption of direct negotiations between the two parties no matter what happens Friday.

Secretary Clinton discussed the Middle East issue at length when she met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov Monday, and the two chief diplomats agreed to have their specialists on the peace process – and those of the other Quartet members – meet again Tuesday to continue work on a statement that could relaunch direct negotiations.

Clinton is also scheduled to meet with Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal Tuesday evening.

“Both Foreign Minister Lavrov and Secretary Clinton agreed that the Quartet envoys should continue working to find a way forward among the Quartet in the form of a statement that can help establish a pathway back to negotiations over time,” a senior State Department said Monday night.

President Obama is also expected to address the issue when he meets Tuesday afternoon with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as well as with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. Brazil is currently a rotating member of the UN Security Council, so it would have a vote if the Palestinian statehood bid came up for a vote in that body.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Monday before leaving Jerusalem for New York that he is ready to meet with Mr. Abbas in New York. That statement is seen as putting more pressure on Abbas to drop any unilateral action, even though Mr. Netanyahu made no mention of meeting any Palestinian Authority demands.

One idea floating around New York is that Abbas would present a letter of intent to seek statehood through the Security Council to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. But then, the issue would be essentially pocketed for six months while negotiations resumed. That idea appears similar to one former British Prime Minister Tony Blair floated with the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships in recent weeks.

Mr. Blair is the special envoy of the Quartet.

The US, as a permanent member of the Security Council, has vowed to use its veto to stop the Palestinian plan if it comes to a vote. The Obama administration insists that only direct negotiations between the two parties can resolve the decades-old conflict.

But the US would also dearly hope to avoid using a veto that could put it on the wrong side of history in the eyes of Arab governments and people. Already, Arab media are widely painting the US as “hypocritical” for espousing pro-democracy movements in the Arab Spring while standing firm against the Palestinians’ UN statehood bid.

As a result, US diplomats have been canvassing both permanent and nonpermanent members of the 15-member Council to assess likely vote totals and see if there might be some way for the US to avoid using its veto. To succeed, the Palestinian request for full UN membership would require nine positive votes and no veto.

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