UNITED NATIONS — Israelis and Palestinians balked Thursday at backing away from positions that have stalled negotiations for years, an ominous sign for U.S.-led efforts to sidetrack a Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations through a return to talks.
An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss diplomacy, said there was no talk about a freeze of construction of Jewish settlements. And a top Palestinian official said they would not drop their twin conditions for negotiating: That Israel stop building on lands the Palestinians want for a future state and agree to base talks on borders as they existed before the 1967 war.
"There will be no negotiations whatsoever as long as Israel refuses to freeze settlement construction and accept the 1967 lines as the terms of reference for the negotiations," said Azzam Ahmed, a senior aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
In a sign of the frustration that led to the U.N. campaign, Ahmed said the Palestinians were even prepared to consider dismantling their limited self-rule government, the Palestinian Authority, an unlikely move that would make Israel responsible for the welfare and policing of 2.5 million unwanted Palestinian subjects.
"If we don't get membership and there are no negotiations, the existence of the Palestinian Authority under Israeli hegemony can't be justified," Ahmed said. "Handing the keys to the Israeli side has become a very realistic option. We can't keep the PA without real power."
He also ruled out a New York meeting between Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had proposed the two sit down together on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly session in New York this week.
The U.S. and other international mediators have been trying to cobble together a formula that would allow the Palestinians to abandon their plan to ask the U.N. Security Council on Friday to recognize a Palestinian state in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
U.S. President Barack Obama has threatened to veto such a request. French President Nicolas Sarkozy appealed for a resumption of direct negotiations in his address to the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday, saying there was no other way to produce such a state.
But Abbas rebuffed all appeals to drop the statehood bid and said he would submit the application to U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon on Friday as planned. His tough stance has given a big boost to his popularity at home, reflecting the deep exasperation of the Palestinian people after 44 years of Israeli occupation.
Talks have been in a deep freeze for three years, save a three-week interlude last September that was meant to launch a round of negotiations leading to the establishment of a Palestinian state. But negotiations quickly broke down over continued settlement construction, with Israel insisting that the Palestinians should not be allowed to introduce conditions that didn't apply to earlier rounds of talks.
The continued deadlock led the Palestinians to seek a different strategy to keep their statehood quest alive, and decided to take their campaign to the broadest possible international forum.
Senior aides to Abbas said the Palestinians would not accept political delays in their membership bid, but acknowledged that final U.N. action might not be taken for months or even longer.
The issue was dominating the annual meeting ministerial meeting of the world body as the diplomatic world swirled with speculation about what deals might be in the works.
Teams of envoys from the United States, the European Union and France were engaged in frenzied, last-minute efforts to persuade Abbas to return to the negotiating table and make do with something less than full U.N. membership. The U.S. and Israel were also pressuring council members to either vote against the plan or abstain when it comes up for a vote. The vote would require the support of nine of the council's 15 members to pass, but even if the Palestinians could line up that backing, a U.S. veto is assured.
The quest for a U.N. nod has put Washington in the awkward position of having to lobby — and perhaps eventually vote — against a state whose establishment it supports, putting it at odds with newly emergent pro-democracy forces in the Arab world.
The Israeli prime minister, meanwhile, was scheduled to sit down with the leader of Security Council member Portugal later Thursday as part of a intensive international effort to stymie the Palestinian plan to ask for Security Council recognition.
A meeting with the leader of Gabon has been canceled at least twice since Netanyahu arrived at the U.N. on Wednesday. Israeli officials have cited "scheduling issues" for the cancellations.
Without a referral from the council, the Palestinians would have to take their campaign for recognition to the General Assembly, where they could be assured of attaining a lesser status of nonmember observer state.
Obama and Abbas met for more than 45 minutes Wednesday evening. The White House wouldn't say whether Obama directly asked the Palestinian leader to abandon his plans to pursue full U.N. membership, saying only that he reiterated his opposition to the statehood bid and the U.S. intention to issue a veto.
Abbas aides said they were not setting deadlines for the Security Council to consider the application. And they left the door open for a General Assembly upgrade from their curret permanent observer status.
That persistence has put the Palestinians on a collision course with the United States and Israel. A frustrated Obama told world leaders during his Wednesday U.N. speech that "there are no shortcuts" to peace.
But Abbas appears to have won new respect at home for standing up to the United States and moving the Palestinians' decades-long quest for statehood back to the center of the world stage.1 comment on this story
The poll of 1,200 Palestinians released this week indicated that more than 80 percent support the U.N. bid. That backing comes despite widespread expectations of greater hardships as a result, including a possible cut in U.S. aid.
The survey by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, with an error margin of 3 percentage points, also cited a five-point increase, to 59 percent, in Abbas' popularity in the past three months.
Associated Press writers Karin Laub in Ramallah, West Bank, and Tarek el-Tablawy, Steven R. Hurst and Edith M. Lederer in New York contributed to this report.