Palestinians seek EU support for independence

AP News
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Posted: Nov 16, 2009 3:56 PM

The Palestinians asked the European Union on Monday to back their plan to have the U.N. Security Council recognize an independent Palestinian state without Israeli consent.

The idea of seeking U.N. intervention has been gaining steam in the Arab world as the impasse in peacemaking drags on. The Palestinians seek a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, territories Israel captured in 1967.

"We will seek the support of all members of the international community," Saeb Erekat, a top adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, told reporters in Ramallah. Besides the EU, they also plan to seek U.S. approval, Erekat said.

The plan appears to be largely symbolic, given that the U.S., Israel's chief ally, would likely veto such an initiative at the United Nations. It also would not remove the 500,000 Israelis living in West Bank settlements and east Jerusalem neighborhoods.

The move, however, reflects growing Palestinian frustration with the deadlock in peace efforts. Palestinian officials say they hope international endorsement would force Israel to recognize a future Palestine's borders based on the pre-1967 lines.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has threatened to nullify past accords with the Palestinians if they take any unilateral action. Several Cabinet allies threatened Monday that Israel would annex West Bank settlement blocs if the Palestinians take any one-side action.

"Any unilateral movement will be countered by a unilateral move on our part," Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Monday. "We cannot conduct policy or negotiations unilaterally; it runs counter to all previous agreements and that's how we will treat it."

In Washington, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly withheld support for the Palestinian initiative. "We support the creation of a Palestinian state that is contiguous and viable," he said. Washington recognizes Palestinian frustration, "but we think that the best way to achieve that is through negotiations by the two parties," he said.

Environment Minister Gilad Erdan, a member of Netanyahu's Likud Party, said Israel should consider annexing West Bank settlements if the Palestinians push forward.

Israel pulled its soldiers and settlers out of Gaza in 2005, but has annexed east Jerusalem and maintains a military occupation in the West Bank. Islamic Hamas militants violently wrested control of Gaza from Abbas loyalists in a 2007, complicating his ability to negotiate.

The U.S., which champions a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has not reacted to the latest Palestinian initiative. But as a key mediator, it would likely veto any such resolution if it reached the Security Council.

The proposal, which has Arab League backing, appears to be an indirect appeal to the international community to shore up Abbas as he tries to win more favorable terms for renewing long-stalled negotiations.

EU foreign ministers will discuss the Arab-backed proposal at their regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday, said Petra Dachtler, an adviser to the EU's special Middle East envoy, Marc Otte. Because the idea has only been floated recently, the EU has yet to formulate an opinion, she said.

The EU is not on the Security Council, but EU members France and Britain are permanent council members that wield veto power.

The Palestinians have given no timeline for presenting a formal proposal to the Security Council. But with the backing of the Arab League, they have been lobbying U.N. member states to support such a proposal when it is submitted.

Peace talks faltered nearly a year ago after Israel launched its devastating war against Gaza militants, who had bombarded southern Israel with thousands of rockets for years.

The Palestinians say they won't go back to the negotiating table until Israel agrees to halt all construction in settlements built on lands the Palestinians claim for their hoped-for state. Israel promised to do just that under a 2003 peace blueprint, but has never carried out that promise.

Netanyahu, who refuses to halt settlement construction, has repeatedly urged the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table without conditions. The Palestinians are disappointed that the U.S. has failed to coerce Israel to halt the construction, which the Palestinians say threatens their dream of independence by gobbling up the land they claim.

Earlier this month, a frustrated Abbas threatened to quit politics after January presidential elections. But last week, election officials postponed the vote indefinitely, allowing Abbas to remain in office.

Abbas is finding it increasingly difficult to justify negotiations to his people, who have seen talks break down repeatedly over the past 18 years. Hamas is sticking by its conviction that only armed struggle will win the Palestinians a state.

In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said Abbas' decision to reach out to the Security Council was a sign of desperation. "It's clear that this was a reaction by the Palestinian Authority after running out of options after two decades of negotiations," he said.