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Americas

Thousands of Palestinians back UN recognition call as US presses Abbas to back down

media Wednesday's demonstration for statehood in Ramallah Reuters/Darren Whiteside

Thousands demonstrated on the West Bank in support of the call for UN recognition of a Palestinian state. But in New York US President Barack Obama and his allies were doing all they could to stop the question going to a vote.

Palestinian officials claimed that the turnout Wednesday was the largest since the end of the second intifada in 2005, with 15,000 demonstrating in Ramallah and the same number in both Hebron and Bethlehem.

Who is on the UN Security Council?

Permanent members:

  • United States
  • France
  • China
  • Russia
  • United Kingdom

Non-permanent members

  • Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Brazil
  • Lebanon
  • Nigeria
  • Gabon
  • South Africa
  • Colombia
  • Germany
  • India
  • Portugal

The Israeli military reported isolated incidents of stone-throwing at its soldiers.

As the United Nations General Assembly prepared to open on Wednesday, Obama was to meet Abbas, having already met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The US has promised to veto the Palestinian move if it goes to the Security Council but is anxious to avoid doing so because it would mean a breach with Arab and Muslim states.

So Obama, along with European powers and the Middle East Quartet are reported to be pushing Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas to accept the relaunch of talks with the Israelis, possibly with a timeline for an independent state, so as to show Palestinians that his tactics have unblocked the situation.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy met Abbas Tuesday, hoping to be able to announce a breakthrough when he addresses the General Assembly Wednesday.

 Who is in the Middle East Quartet?

  • the United Nations
  • the United States
  • the European Union
  • Russia

But the Palestinians want a prior Israeli commitment to freeze the construction of settlements on the West Bank, the reason negotiations broke down in 2010.

While Netanyahu has said he wants negotiations without any conditions, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Wednesday told Israeli military radio, “There will not be a freeze for even a day.”

If Abbas presses ahead on Friday, as he has pledged to do, the recognition call must win the support of at least nine of the 15 Security Council members.

Russia has already promised support. France’s statements have been deliberately ambiguous and there is no common position of the European members.

Dossier: Gaza 2009

About 120 countries have already recognised Palestine, prompting the US State Department to send official messages to another 70 to persuade them not to follow suit.

The US Congress has threatened to cut off the 500 million dollars it currently gives the Palestinians ever year, while some of Obama’s Republican rivals in the 2012 presidential election have criticised him for supposedly betraying Israel.

Another option could be for the UN General Assembly to give the Palestinians advanced observer status, a position so far only enjoyed by the Vatican.

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