UNITED NATIONS — Nearly two decades after embarking on historic peace talks with Israel, Palestinians prepared to sidestep that troubled route on Friday to seek U.N. recognition of an independent state — hoping to leverage this dramatic move on the world stage to realize their dream of an independent homeland.
Earlier in the week, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas rebuffed an intense, U.S.-led effort to sway him from the statehood bid, saying he would submit the application to U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon as planned. A top aide, Mohammed Ishtayeh, said Thursday that Abbas asked Ban and the Council's Lebanese president this month to process the application without delay.
"We're going without any hesitation and continuing despite all the pressures," Abbas told members of the Palestinian diaspora at a hotel in New York on Thursday night. "We seek to achieve our right and we want our independent state."
To be sure, Abbas' appeal to the U.N. to recognize Palestinian independence in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip would not deliver any immediate changes on the ground: Israel would remain an occupying force in those first two territories and continue to severely restrict access to Gaza, ruled by Palestinian Hamas militants.
Beyond that, Security Council action on the membership request could take weeks or months.
The strategy also put the Palestinians in direct confrontation with the U.S., which has threatened to veto their membership bid in the U.N. Security Council, reasoning, like Israel, that statehood can only be achieved through direct negotiations between the parties to the long and bloody conflict.
Also hanging heavy in the air was the threat of renewed violence over frustrated Palestinian aspirations — perhaps not immediate, because Abbas has vowed to prevent unrest, but possibly down the road if negotiations continue to stall.
Yet by seeking approval at a world forum overwhelmingly sympathetic to their quest, Palestinians hope to make it harder for Israel to resist already heavy global pressure to negotiate the borders of a future Palestine based on lines Israel held before capturing the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza in 1967.
In recent weeks, international mediators have been furiously trying to piece together a formula that would let the Palestinians abandon their plan to ask the Security Council for full U.N. membership, and instead make do with the more modest goal of asking a sympathetic General Assembly to elevate their status from permanent observer to nonmember observer state. The other part of that formula would include the resumption of negotiations in short order.
The U.S. and Israel have been 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 resumption of talks seems an elusive goal, with both sides digging in to positions that have tripped up negotiations for years. Israel insists that negotiations go ahead without any preconditions. But Palestinians say they will not return to the bargaining table without assurances that Israel would halt settlement building and drop its opposition to basing negotiations on the borders it held before capturing the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza in 1967.
Israel has warned that the Palestinian appeal to the U.N. will have a disastrous effect on negotiations, which have been the cornerstone of international Mideast policy for the past two decades. Netanyahu, who is to address the General Assembly later Friday, shortly after Abbas makes his own address, opposes negotiations based on 1967 lines, saying a return to those frontiers would expose Israel's heartland to rocket fire from the West Bank.
He also fears that if that principle becomes the baseline for negotiations, then Palestinians won't settle for anything less, despite previous understandings between the Palesitnians and previous Israeli governments to swap land where settlement blocs stand for Israeli territory.
Talks for all intents and purposes broke down nearly three years ago after Israel went to war in the Gaza Strip and prepared to hold national elections that ultimately propelled Netanyahu to power for a second time. A last round was launched a year ago, with the ambitious aim of producing a framework accord for a peace deal, but broke down just three weeks later after an Israeli settlement construction slowdown expired.
Palestinians say they turned to the U.N. in desperation over 18 failed years of peace talks. But Israelis say the Palestinians are to blame for their own predicament and accuse them of going to the United Nations precisely to avoid talks.