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In a speech to the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas outlined plans to upgrade the status of the Palestinian UN delegation to ‘non-member state’.
Last year, the Palestinians failed in a bid to become a full member state of the UN, when it proved unable to muster the support of enough states in the UN Security Council. Yesterday, Abbas outlined more modest ambitions from the UN podium, saying ‘We have started intensive consultations with the various regional organisations and the state members in order for the General Assembly to take a decision granting the state of Palestine the status of non-member state during this UN session.’ The speech was also filled with a barrage of inflammatory accusations against Israel.
Palestinian officials indicated that such an application will be made on 29 November, after the US presidential election. This date has symbolic significance, as the date on which the Partition Plan for Palestine of 1947 was approved by the UN. Abbas called on world leaders to ‘support the establishment of the free state of Palestine now.’
Following a meeting between US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Abbas, shortly before his UN speech, a State Department spokesman reiterated the US position, saying ‘we have made very clear that our goal is to resume direct talks and that the idea of going to the UN is not the road that takes us there.’ If Abbas carries out his strategy he risks a confrontation with both Israel and the US. The US Congress last year suspended aid transfers in response to Abbas’s application for UN membership.
In his own speech, Netanyahu responded briefly but directly to Abbas’ plans, reaffirming his support for a negotiated two state solution and commenting ‘I say to him and I say to you, we won’t solve our conflict with libellous speeches at the UN.’
Whilst the Palestinians can expect to have majority support in the General Assembly, many Western powers are sceptical of the UN approach. There are fears that recognition of Palestine as a non-member state could undermine the prospects for future negotiations. Britain stated last year that it would judge whether or not to support any UN General Assembly resolution on whether it made a return to negotiations more likely.