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Palestinians resist US pressure on statehood bid

By Mohammed Daraghmeh

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 6 2011 9:40 a.m. MDT

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas pauses during a meeting with Palestinian doctors at his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2011. A delegation of 40 Palestinian medics met with Abbas on Tuesday before leaving on an aid mission to Libya.

Majdi Mohammed, Associated Press

RAMALLAH, West Bank — The Palestinians on Tuesday said they would not give in to American pressure to drop their bid for statehood at the United Nations, taking a tough position ahead of a meeting with a senior U.S. delegation.

Two senior White House envoys, David Hale and Dennis Ross, arrived in the region on Tuesday for talks with Israel and Palestinian officials. The U.S. has been trying to persuade the Palestinians to drop their plan to ask the U.N. this month to approve their independence and instead resume peace talks with Israel.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, a top adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said there was little the Americans could do to change the Palestinians' plans.

"We are going to the United Nations, regardless of objections or pressure," he said. Abbas is expected to meet with Hale on Wednesday.

The comments signaled more frustration for President Barack Obama, who has made little progress in nurturing peace talks despite pledges to make Mideast diplomacy a priority.

The Palestinians say they are turning to the U.N. after years of sporadic, and inconclusive, peace talks with Israel. They say they will resume negotiations only if Israel halts settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem and agrees to base the borders of a future Palestinian state on its 1967 boundaries.

Israel captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem — areas claimed by the Palestinians — in the 1967 Mideast war. Both Israel and the U.S. oppose the U.N. initiative, saying peace can be reached only through negotiations. Israel has called for a resumption of talks without preconditions.

The American team was meeting with Israel's defense minister, Ehud Barak, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday.

Barak's office said his discussions focused on "the regional situation and strategy issues," including the Palestinians. He did not elaborate. There was no immediate comment from either Netanyahu's office or the Americans.

Any U.N. vote will be largely symbolic. Facing U.S. opposition, the Palestinians are unlikely to win approval in the Security Council, whose decisions are legally binding. Instead, they will likely seek status as a nonmember state in the General Assembly, a move that will not change the situation on the ground.

The Palestinians believe a powerful international endorsement will isolate Israel and strengthen their position in future negotiations.

While Israeli officials have publicly dismissed the Palestinian effort, they have expressed concern that the vote could spark a new bout of violence.

Abbas, the Palestinian president, confirmed this week that he has held secret talks with the Israeli president and defense minister in recent weeks, but was unable to reach any breakthrough.

In a separate matter, an Israeli defense official said Tuesday that the military has temporarily suspended its contentious policy of demolishing illegally built Palestinian homes in the West Bank. The official said the order was issued after determining the policy is not equally enforced against illegally built Jewish settler homes.

Palestinians have bitterly complained that demolitions are arbitrary and lopsided and that it's difficult for them to get Israeli construction permits.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the order, which was issued in an internal memorandum. He didn't say how long the order would last.

Amy Teibel in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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