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The Globe and Mail

Palestinians set on UN statehood bid in September

Palestinians wave flags and chant slogans during a rally calling for reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah.

Bernat Armangue/AP

Palestinians will seek recognition as a U.N. member-state in September given the deadlock in U.S.-brokered peacemaking with Israel, a senior Palestinian official said on Saturday.

Nabil Shaath urged President Barack Obama, who on Thursday criticized the planned move at the U.N. general assembly, to join countries that have already endorsed a Palestinian state taking in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Another Palestinian official, Nabil Abu Rdainah, said the drive to win statehood status unilaterally could be forestalled should Israel accept the demand to extend a freeze on its settlement on occupied land so that negotiations can resume.

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But such rapprochement looked highly unlikely after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, hosted in Washington on Friday, sparred with Mr. Obama over a new U.S. call for the future Palestinian state to have a border approximating to the West Bank's boundary before Israel captured it in the 1967 war.

"Of course we will go to the United Nations," Mr. Shaath, an aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, told Reuters.

"Especially after Netanyahu used the old pretext that he needs 'defensible borders' to keep stealing our land, control the Jordan Valley and create demographic facts on the ground." Mr. Abbas asked the Arab League to convene a discussion of the Obama speech, a Palestinian official said, with a meeting of the Cairo-based bloc possible at month's end.

The official gave no further details on the agenda. The Arab League has a committee that monitors the peace process and with which Mr. Abbas has previously consulted on policy regarding Israel.

Diplomats see majority support for the Palestinians in the U.N. General Assembly and membership of the U.N. is generally considered confirmation a country is a sovereign state, although it is up to individual states to recognize countries.

But the statehood vote would have first to be approved in the Security Council, where the United States -- which insists on a negotiated peace accord -- has a veto. Mr. Obama on Thursday dismissed the Palestinian lobbying at the U.N. as symbolic.

"We urge President Obama to recognize the Palestinian state on the 1967 borders," Mr. Shaath said. "We are going to the United Nations in September, using all non-violent means."

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Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, who had warned his compatriots that a pro-Palestinian "diplomatic tsunami" was about to crest, welcomed Mr. Obama's comments on the U.N. lobbying.

"The president has erased the September issue. It's very important," Mr. Barak told Israel's Channel Two television.

In February, the United States struck down a Security Council motion that would have branded the West Bank settlements as illegal. Analysts, noting that the 14 other council members voted in favour, said the Palestinians appeared to be signalling that Washington was out of step with an international consensus.

Delivering a major Middle East policy speech on Thursday, Mr. Obama cautioned Palestinians against "efforts to delegitimise Israel". He added: "Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won't create an independent state."

Mr. Obama questioned the viability of a power-share deal forged last month between Mr. Abbas's Fatah faction and the armed, rival Hamas Islamists who control Gaza and spurn the Jewish state.

But the Palestinians, who have long complained of Israeli unilateralism, were buoyed by Mr. Obama's vision of borders "based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps".

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Israel disputes the Palestinian claim on all of the territory, which was previously held by Jordan and is now peppered with Jewish settlements. Gaza, the other half of the Palestinian polity, was evacuated by the Israelis in 2005.

Mr. Abbas spokesman Abu Rdainah said Palestinians preferred to pursue peace with Israel rather look to the United Nations.

"Our position is to give an opportunity, until September, for going back to the negotiating table based on a halt to settlement activity," he said. "It would be our first choice."

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