Mideast negotiations appear to remain elusive

By Mohammed Daraghmeh

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Sept. 22 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

A Palestinian policeman stands in front of a Palestinian flag in Beit Jala, near the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2011. The drama over the Palestinians' bid for U.N. recognition is still unfolding, but President Mahmoud Abbas appears to have won new respect at home for standing up to the United States and has managed to move the Palestinians' decades-long struggle for statehood back to the center of the world stage.

Bernat Armangue, Associated Press

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.

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