UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Israel on Tuesday urged U.N. leaders to reject a Palestinian attempt to raise their flag at U.N. headquarters as early as next month's gathering of world leaders there.
Israel's U.N. Ambassador Ron Prosor accused the Palestinians in letters to the United Nations secretary-general and General Assembly president of "attempting to swiftly change longstanding U.N. tradition in order to score political points."
The flags of all 193 U.N. member states fly outside U.N. headquarters in New York and other U.N. offices — but not the flags of the two non-member observer states, Palestine and the Vatican.
The Palestinians are seeking General Assembly approval of a draft resolution that would allow non-member observer states to raise their flags.
Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour told The Associated Press that he expects a revised draft to be circulated on Thursday and a vote on Sept. 10, though a General Assembly spokeswoman said no date had been set.
He said he expects an "overwhelming majority" of states to support the resolution.
It states that "observer states maintaining permanent observer missions will raise their flags after member states," Mansour said. And it gives Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon 20 days to implement the flag-raising provision.
Mansour said he would like to see Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas raise the flag after he addresses the General Assembly's annual gathering of world leaders on Sept. 30. He said if the Holy See wants to raise its flag in time for Pope Francis' visit to the U.N. on Sept. 25, "by all means — we'll be there!"
Several nations have shown support for the Palestinians' pursuit of statehood, including the Vatican. In May, the Vatican officially recognized the state of Palestine with a bilateral treaty.
Mansour said the Holy See had expressed support for the flag-raising idea in principle early this month. But last week, the Vatican's mission to the U.N. circulated a note among member states saying it was not co-sponsoring the draft.
Then on Friday, the Vatican issued a statement noting that by tradition only member states have displayed their flags, but adding that it would accept whatever U.N. decision is taken on the issue.
Prosor's letter called the flag-raising effort a "blatant attempt to hijack the U.N.," adding, "As the gatekeeper of this institution, I call on you to reject this aggressive behavior."
The United States, Israel's closest ally, opposed the Palestinian move.
"We continue to believe that Palestinian efforts to pursue statehood or endorsements of statehood claims through the U.N. system that are outside of a negotiated settlement ... (are) counterproductive," U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said, adding that this includes raising the flag.
Mansour called Prosor's letter "full of distortion and fabrications" and said the matter is up to member states to decide.
The flags could be up quickly, Mansour said.
"We did our homework. We inspected everything needed. There are holes for additional poles. There are poles," he said. "Everything's ready to go."
A spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general, Stephane Dujarric, told reporters Tuesday that the U.N. will abide by whatever the General Assembly decides.
"We're moving into somewhat uncharted territory here," he said.
Associated Press Writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report from Washington.