Palestinian U.N. statehood bid at heart of Kerry-Netanyahu talks

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 15, 2014 7:34 AM

By Lesley Wroughton

ROME (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said before talks on Monday with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that he would defy any United Nations move to "dictate" a time frame for withdrawal from land Palestinians seek for a state.

The pair met in Rome for nearly three hours. Before the meeting, Israel put the United States on notice that it expected Washington to exercise its Security Council veto against any resolutions setting a time frame.

Jordan has circulated a Palestinian-drafted resolution to the 15-member council calling for Israeli occupation of Palestinian land to end by November 2016.

U.S. officials have indicated that Washington did not find the Palestinian draft acceptable but said that with matters still fluid, it was premature to take a position now on any particular Security Council resolution.

"Whether we have the nine votes at the Security Council or we don't, the decision has been taken to present the Palestinian-Arab resolution in the Security Council on Wednesday," said Wasel Abu Youssef, an official of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the Palestinians' highest decision-making body, led by President Mahmoud Abbas.

Palestinian U.N. Ambassador Riyad Mansour said that "on Wednesday, most likely a draft will be put in blue." This means the draft resolution could be put to a vote as soon as 24 hours later, though it does not guarantee it will be put to a vote.

Jordan's U.N. Ambassador Dina Kawar said she had not received any requests regarding action on the Palestinian draft.

When asked if she was expecting any developments at the Security Council this week, Kawar told reporters: "No, no, because Mr. Kerry is having meetings in Europe with a number of ministers so we're waiting to see what happens."

Kerry planned to travel later on Monday for talks with counterparts from France, Britain and Germany. On Tuesday, he will meet with Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat in London.

Shortly before leaving for Rome, Netanyahu, who is in the middle of a re-election campaign, told reporters: "We will not accept attempts to dictate unilateral, time-bound moves to us. I will say these things in the clearest manner. Even if there are dictates, we will stand up to them firmly."

Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said Israel expected Washington to use its Security Council veto, if necessary, as it has done in the past in support of its ally.

France is also leading a bid among Europeans to draft a resolution with a less definitive timetable before Israel's March 17 election. A Western diplomat said the Europeans felt the United States was now open to that possibility.

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks championed by Kerry collapsed in April. A Gaza war last summer, heightened violence in recent weeks in Israel and the West Bank, and the Israeli election campaign have all dampened prospects that talks will resume soon.

While saying he would support Palestinian statehood under an eventual peace deal, Netanyahu has balked at comprehensive withdrawals from the West Bank, which many Israelis consider a security bulwark and Jewish biblical birthright.

U.N. Middle East peace process envoy Robert Serry briefed the Security Council on Monday and said any resolution outlining the parameters of an Israeli-Palestinian final status agreement would be important, but "not a substitute for a genuine peace process that will need to be negotiated between both parties."

"The Secretary-General (Ban Ki-moon) hopes that Security Council action will generate constructive momentum toward the creation of a meaningful and effective framework for renewed negotiations. Such a move by the Security Council would constitute a major step on this conflict," Serry said.

(Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem, Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Editing by Jeffrey Heller, Ralph Boulton and Jonathan Oatis)