Palestinians resist US pressure on statehood bid

By Mohammed Daraghmeh

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 6 2011 12:00 p.m. MDT

Jewish rabbi Menachem Froman addresses a crowd of Palestinians as he leads a reconciliation visit of Jewish settlers to the West Bank village of Qusra, a day after the local mosque was vandalized, Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2011. The mosque was torched Monday after Israeli military demolished buildings in an unauthorized Jewish settlement outpost. The name of the outpost, Migron, was spray painted on the mosque, suggesting the act was settler retaliation for the demolitions.

Nasser Ishtayeh, 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. Ross, who is viewed by the Palestinians as pro-Israel, was not scheduled to attend the meeting.

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.

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 Israeli 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.

Abbas 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.

Also Tuesday, Netanyahu condemned the torching of a mosque in the West Bank earlier in the week, that came a few hours after the Israeli military dismantled structures in an unauthorized West Bank outpost. The name of the outpost, Migron, was spray painted on the mosque, suggesting the act was settler retaliation for the demolitions.

Menachem Froman, a rabbi from the settlement of Tekoa who promotes coexistence between Palestinians and settlers, visited the mosque on Tuesday to reconcile between the two sides.

In Gaza Tuesday, a Palestinian militant was killed by an Israeli missile as he fired rockets at southern Israel, Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Adham Abu Salmia said. The Israeli military had no immediate comment.

Associated Press writer Amy Teibel in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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