Palestinians Say UN Bid Is Last-Ditch Peace Effort

A Palestinian man holds a flag during a demonstration in support of the Palestinian statehood petition at the U.N. General Assembly near the Damascus gate in Jerusalem's Old City, Nov. 14, 2012.
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By KARIN LAUB, Associated Press

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — A bid for U.N. recognition of a state of Palestine is a last-ditch attempt to rescue troubled Mideast peace efforts, a Palestinian spokeswoman said Wednesday, rejecting Israel's charge that it is an attempt to bypass negotiations.

Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestinian official, urged the U.S. to drop its opposition to the bid, dismissing Washington's stance as "pathetic" and harmful to American interests in the region. The Palestinians have come under intense pressure from the U.S., Britain and others to modify the bid but "have not succumbed," she said.

On Thursday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas plans to ask the U.N. General Assembly to recognize Palestine in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, areas Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, but still controls most access.

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The Palestinians expect some two-thirds of the General Assembly's 193 members will accept Palestine as a non-member observer state. The U.S., Israel, Canada and a few others are opposed.

The vote will not change the situation on the ground, yet the Palestinians still say it is significant.

Abbas has said U.N. recognition is not meant to replace negotiations with Israel, but to improve Palestinian leverage and secure the pre-1967 war frontiers as the baseline for future border talks — an idea Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected.

This does not mean the U.N. vote will pave the way for a quick resumption of talks, which broke down four years ago.

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Abbas has said he will not negotiate as long as Israel keeps expanding settlements on war-won land. Half a million Israelis now live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, blurring the 1967 lines.

Beyond a 10-month partial halt in 2009 that failed to restart sustained peace talks, Netanyahu has refused to freeze construction in settlements, and U.N. recognition of "Palestine" will not soften Abbas' refusal to negotiate without a freeze, his aides say.

Referring to Israeli settlement building, Ashrawi said Wednesday that the U.N. bid "is a last-ditch effort, because we believe the two-state solution (a Palestinian state alongside Israel) is in jeopardy as a result of these actions."

She said if the U.S. "can't vote yes, at least don't vote no, because that would be seen as being really pathetic by the rest of the world."

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Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev dismissed the U.N. quest as futile, saying only negotiations with Israel can bring about a Palestinian state.

"They can get pieces of paper from the U.N., but they are not going to move peace forward, they are not going to make a Palestinian statehood more real," he said.

"They boycott Israel. They refuse to talk to us. Who do they plan to make peace with?" he said.

Surveys indicate most Palestinians have become disillusioned with prospects of setting up a state through negotiations. Two decades of talks have failed to produce results, marred by intransigence and repeated bouts of violence.

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The vote comes at an important time domestically for Abbas, who has watched his political rival, the Islamic militant Hamas, gain popularity, particularly after holding its own during an Israeli offensive on Hamas-ruled Gaza earlier this month, aimed at stopping almost daily rocket barrages from Gaza at southern Israel.

Hamas, which seized control of Gaza from Abbas in 2007, argues that negotiations with Israel are a waste of time, but Hamas leaders have come out in support of the U.N. bid in recent days.

During Israel's Gaza offensive, Abbas was largely sidelined at his compound in the West Bank, underscoring international concerns that the deadlock in peace efforts is increasingly weakening him and other Palestinian pragmatists.

Abbas aides have said they expect key European countries to support the U.N. bid at the last minute in an attempt to strengthen Abbas.