The survival of the internationally-backed Palestinian self-rule government cannot be taken for granted because its successful state-building program is being hampered by a "profound deadlock" in Mideast peace efforts, a top U.N. envoy to the region warned Tuesday.
Robert Serry called on the international community to chart a clear way toward resuming Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, stuck for nearly three years because of vast gaps between the sides over the terms of Palestinian statehood.
He suggested that the status quo is not sustainable and that the situation could quickly deteriorate.
"Without a credible political path forward, accompanied by more far-reaching steps on the ground, the viability of the Palestinian Authority and its state building agenda and, I fear, of the two-state solution itself cannot be taken for granted," Serry told the U.N. Security Council.
The Palestinian Authority, based in the West Bank and headed by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, has won repeated praise from donor countries for trying to build a state from the ground up in the past four years. In April, donor countries said that Fayyad's government is ready to assume responsibilities of statehood "at any point in the near future."
The Palestinians want to establish a state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, territories Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war. Fayyad's government only has limited say in 40 percent of the West Bank, while Israel retains overall control over the territory. Palestinian state-building efforts are often hampered by Israeli restrictions.
"Serry's statements show that we have succeeded in making the state a reality on the ground," Fayyad told The Associated Press Tuesday. "But we are seeking an independent state and that cannot be achieved without ending the occupation."
Israel's current government says it's willing, in principle, to accept the establishment of a Palestinian state. However, it says it will not give up east Jerusalem, the Palestinians' hoped-for capital, and severely restricts access to Gaza, ruled by the Islamist militant Hamas since 2007.
U.S. President Barack Obama announced in September 2010, as U.S.-brokered direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations resumed, that a peace treaty should be signed in a year, but those talks collapsed weeks later after Israel ended its freeze on building settlements.
The Palestinians insist they will not resume peace talks until Israel stops building settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Israel maintains that the Palestinians should not be setting conditions for talks and that settlements didn't stop them from negotiating in the past.
The Palestinians are determined to seek U.N. recognition in September, when the world body's General Assembly begins a new year of work.
Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. observer, accused the Israeli government of obstructing peace with its "extremely right-wing and anti-peace agenda" and of "sabotaging the small opportunity remaining to achieve the two-state solution on the basis of the pre-1967 borders."
He said the Palestinians are ready to resume negotiations with the pre-1967 war borders as the foundation, but stressed "we cannot keep waiting for Israel to negotiate in good faith."
"This is the time for Palestine's independence," Mansour said.
U.S. deputy ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo made clear that the United States is pressing for a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, insists on a negotiated settlement, and will oppose any unilateral action by the Palestinians at the U.N.
"Let there be no doubt: symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September will not create an independent Palestinian state," she said. "The United States will not support unilateral campaigns at the United Nations in September or any other time."
Mansour countered that with more than 120 countries already recognizing an independent Palestinian state, any U.N. action, whether at the Security Council or the General Assembly, would not be unilateral.
"On the contrary, it is multilateral, and the consecration of the two-state solution in bold resolutions _ including recognition of the state of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital, on the bases of the pre-1967 borders and its admission as a full member of the organization _ will help to make the two-state solution more inevitable," he said.
Mansour suggested to reporters afterward that if Palestinians undertook peaceful Arab spring-like demonstrations, "marching by the hundreds of thousands in the streets," the Americans may support their efforts at the U.N.
Israel's U.N. Ambassador Ron Prosor countered saying "it is clear that the Palestinians are not united and are far from united for peace."
He asked Mansour whether he would present a resolution in September on behalf of President Mahmoud Abbas' Palestinian Authority or Hamas, which controls Gaza, or both. He reiterated that Israel considers Hamas a terrorist organization "which advances a charter calling for the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews."
"On these issues Israel and the international community must have clarity," Prosor said. "There is much uncertainty about the future Palestinian government ... It will take at least until after the Palestinian elections next year before it is clear what Palestinian unity really means."
Associated Press writers Mohammed Daraghmeh and Karin Laub in Ramallah, West Bank, Mark Lavie in Jerusalem and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.