UNITED NATIONS — The spotlight will be shining on the Palestinian bid for U.N. membership when world leaders gather at the United Nations starting Monday, but the U.N. is hoping the glow will spread to other pressing global issues, including killer diseases, nuclear safety, terrorism and the aftershocks of the Arab Spring.
More than 120 presidents, prime ministers and monarchs will be meeting under heavy security at the General Assembly and in sideline events, just a week after the 10th anniversary of the terrorist bombings that shook the United States.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the high-level meetings are taking place "at a moment of uncommon turbulence and high anxiety," with famine in Somalia, turmoil in the Mideast, and the global economic crisis continuing to shake banks, businesses, governments and families. This year's agenda is jam-packed, and "the pace even faster than usual," he said.
The General Assembly ministerial session is almost certain to be dominated by the Palestinians' quest for internationally recognized statehood. More than 120 of the 193 U.N. member states have already recognized a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders with Israel, according to Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. observer.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Friday he will seek approval for Palestine to become the 194th member state of the United Nations, a move certain to trigger a diplomatic confrontation with Israel and the United States, its staunchest ally. The U.S. is a veto-wielding member of the U.N. Security Council, which must give its backing.
Abbas appeared to leave himself room to maneuver, saying he did not rule out other, unspecified options. Those could include seeking to raise the Palestinians' status at the U.N. from a "nonmember observer" to a "nonmember state" observer like the Holy See, a more easily obtainable goal that could not be vetoed by the U.S.
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is flying to New York to reiterate his commitment to peace and a resumption of negotiations with the Palestinians. He accused Abbas of dodging direct talks.
"Peace is not achieved through unilateral approaches to the U.N. or by joining forces with the Hamas terror organization," Netanyahu said in a statement, referring to a recent, unimplemented agreement to between Abbas and the violently anti-Israel Islamic group that rules Gaza to unite their rival governments. "Peace can only be achieved through direct negotiations with Israel."
U.S. President Barack Obama will also be attending, and there are hopes that perhaps the Palestinian and Israeli leaders can meet on the sidelines.
On Sunday, senior Palestinian and Israeli officials are expected to attend a meeting at U.N. headquarters of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, a donor support group for the Palestinians that is expected to discuss their economic prospects. It includes top officials from the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the Quartet of Mideast mediators that have been trying to get the two sides back to the negotiating table — the U.S., U.N., European Union and Russia.
Other world leaders will be vying for attention as well, including Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was undermined by his country's ruling clerics after he attempted to expand his own powers. Ahmadinejad has been thwarted by judicial authorities in his attempt to win the release of two jailed American hikers before flying to the U.S.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Afghan President Hamid Karzai also will be trying to grab headlines. So will protesters supporting Palestinian independence, opposing Ahmadinejad and demanding that U.N. peacekeepers leave Haiti.
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