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Nations Duel Over Palestinian Statehood Bid


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. The United Nations Security Council now has before it an application from the Palestinians to join the United Nations as a full member as a state on land Israel took in the 1967 war. The U.S. promises to veto that resolution if necessary. American and European diplomats trying to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which they say are the only way to create a Palestinian state. The problem is the parties sound very far apart, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: At the end of a frantic week of diplomacy at the U.N., Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her counterparts in the so-called Middle East Quartet, laid out a one-year timeline, and a guideline for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

HILLARY CLINTON: We urge both parties to take advantage of this opportunity to get back to talks, and the United States pledges our support as the parties themselves take the important next steps for a two-state solution which is what all of us are hoping to achieve.

KELEMEN: Quartet representative, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair insisted that talks can take place even as U.N. diplomats figure out what to do with the Palestinian membership bid.

TONY BLAIR: The application for statehood goes into the United Nations Security Council machinery, and I think how that progresses, and what happens to it will in a sense be partly formed and shaped by what happens in the negotiation. That's why I've always said if you simply have the U.N. without a negotiation alongside it, then it's quite hard to see people ever reaching agreement.

KELEMEN: But it was also hard to hear any room for compromise when listening to the dueling speeches in the U.N. general assembly hall yesterday. Palestinian authority president, Mahmoud Abbas says there's no point talking as long as Israel continues building Jewish settlements in the West Bank and destroying Arab homes in East Jerusalem; the part of the city Palestinians claim for a future capital. He was speaking through an interpreter.

MAHMOUD ABBAS: Settlement activities embody the core of a policy of colonial military occupation of the land of the Palestinian people.

KELEMEN: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the world body that the Palestinians are just trying to seek a state without peace. He says when Israeli has made concessions in the past, pulling out of Gaza for instance, it ended up facing more rocket fire from the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: That didn't calm the Islamic storm, the militant Islamic storm that threatens us. It only brought the storm closer and made it stronger.

KELEMEN: Netanyahu says he's ready to talk to the Palestinians on the principals the U.S. has suggested, borders and security concerns would be front loaded. He even offered to meet Abbas at the United Nations, but the Palestinians left New York, and as they were packing up, negotiator Saeb Erekat told NPR Netanyahu has a choice.

SAEB EREKAT: He has to choose settlements or peace, and also the United States has a choice to make. If they speak about freedom, democracy and peace in the region, they just cannot continue doing business as usual (unintelligible) Israel, a country above the laws of man.

KELEMEN: One of the reasons the Palestinians are seeking to upgrade their status in the U.N. is to gain access to international courts, to be able to challenge Israeli actions in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. European diplomats have warned them though not to take any action that would undermine a peace process. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.