JERUSALEM — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas formally announced Friday that he will ask the U.N. Security Council to endorse his statehood bid, putting the United States in line for a showdown with the Palestinians and their supporters across the Arab world.
So far, efforts by the Obama administration and European diplomats to dissuade Abbas from presenting his U.N. bid have failed. The White House opposes the move and has said it would exercise the veto it wields at the Security Council, but Abbas left himself some room to maneuver.
"It is our legitimate right to demand the full membership of the state of Palestine in the U.N.," said Abbas, who is scheduled to address the U.N. General Assembly next Friday, after which he's expected to submit the official request for U.N. membership to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
He then added that he would not rule out other, "unspecified" options.
To block the bid, Israel has enlisted the support of the White House. But two senior U.S. envoys' efforts so far to persuade the Palestinians to enter into intensive peace talks with Israel instead have failed. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called the move a violation of the peace agreements currently in place and said that it hinders the chances of a lasting peace deal between the two sides.
President Barack Obama has called the move "unnecessary" and an obstacle to restarting long-stalled peace talks. Obama is slated to address the United Nations on Wednesday, where a senior aide said he'd "make clear ... that these types of actions at the U.N. don't solve the problem."
"I think our fundamental message is going to be, if you support Palestinian aspirations, if you support a Palestinian state, that the way to accomplish it is through negotiations with Israel," Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said Friday.
Palestinian officials, for their part, have expressed interest in renewing peace talks, but only on the condition that Israel freezes construction on its controversial settlements.
"This is our basic point, we cannot enter peace talks while they continue to build on land meant for a Palestinian state," said Palestinian official Saeb Erekat.
The West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip are all lands that Palestinians hope to define their future state. Netanyahu's largely right-wing coalition, however, has explicitly stated that it would not support a freeze on building in East Jerusalem.
One European official who has been involved in recent talks said that both sides' positions are entrenched.
"We are trying to move the two parties closer together, but the Israelis have remained intractable on the issue of the settlements. The Palestinians have also insisted that they can't back down, though they understand that going to the U.N. would be embarrassing for the United States," said the official, who requested anonymity to discuss the sensitive talks.
One of the compromises currently being debated would see the Palestinians receive full U.N. membership without a vote. The European officials said that a motion could be presented that would give the Palestinians membership rights, which would allow them to sit on committees or demand investigations into Israel's conduct.
One Palestinian official involved in the bid, who wasn't authorized to be quoted by name, said: "Either way, our full membership in the U.N. will cause Israel legal problems. But it is a question of how far they will go and how many friends they are willing to lose."
Israel has faced increasing isolation in the region: downscaled diplomatic relations with Turkey, a tense standoff with Jordan, and growing hostility from Egypt, where the ouster of longtime President Hosni Mubarak has blown the lid off of long-simmering anger over Israel's treatment of Palestinians in neighboring Gaza.
Israeli diplomats still have not returned to Cairo after the Israeli Embassy there was attacked and ransacked last week by a group of Egyptian protesters.
Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf said Friday that the peace treaty between the two states is "not sacred," leading Israel to summon the Egyptian ambassador for clarification.
Writing in the Hebrew-language daily Yediot Ahronot, popular columnist Nahum Barnea blamed Netanyahu for not engaging Palestinians in a real peace process that could have avoided the U.N. bid. He added that Israel's current problems lay with its deteriorating regional diplomacy.
"If Netanyahu is hoping to emerge victorious in the battle for Israel, the real playing field is not New York, in the upholstered hallways of the U.N. building, but rather between Jerusalem and Ramallah, between Jerusalem and Ankara, Cairo, and Amman."
(Frenkel is a McClatchy special correspondent. Lesley Clark contributed from Washington.)
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