Last-minute talks and the threat of a US veto have failed to divert Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas from his historic quest to seek state membership at the United Nations on Friday.
Abbas is to hand the application letter to UN chief Ban Ki-moon at 11:35 am (1535 GMT), Palestinian UN envoy Riyad Mansour told AFP, but the UN Security Council vote could take weeks, leaving time for more diplomatic wrangling.
“We have been under very big pressure from the United States not to go to the Security Council, before arriving in New York and after. But we are going,” Abbas said during a meeting of the Palestinian community in the city.
Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will then speak to the UN General Assembly to explain their opposing sides in the latest round of the protracted Middle East conflict, which has dominated this year’s UN summit.
Negotiators from the Middle East Quartet — the United States, Russia, the European Union and United Nations — held talks Thursday on a possible statement that they hoped could get the two sides back to direct talks.
A new Quartet meeting could be held Friday, but diplomats from all sides acknowledged it would have no impact on the Palestinians handing over their letter.
“We remain focused on supporting and helping the Israelis and Palestinians get back to negotiations,” a US official said on condition of anonymity.
US President Barack Obama insisted to the UN General Assembly on Wednesday that only new Israeli-Palestinian talks — which broke down a year ago after the Jewish state resumed settlement building — could bring lasting peace.
His speech sparked angry demonstrations in the West Bank and Gaza, with Palestinians accusing Obama of a double standard for praising the Arab Spring protests while seeking to block Palestinian dreams of statehood.
The US administration has said it would concentrate on the aim of renewing talks no matter what Abbas does, and France’s foreign minister said earlier this week that the Security Council vote could take weeks.
“I think it is important to note that regardless of what happens tomorrow in the United Nations, we remain focused on the day after,” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday.
“I remain committed to working with the parties to obtain the goal that the United States supports, that is a two-state solution.”
The US would leave “no effort or stone unturned in our commitment to achieving that,” she added.
Abbas was to leave New York after giving his UN speech to return to the Palestinian territories for consultations on the next step forward.
If the request is for full state membership, as expected, Ban will send it to the UN Security Council, which must give its blessing.
The United States has vowed to use its veto, but if the proposal does not get nine votes it will automatically fail without Washington registering an embarrassing vote against Palestinian statehood.
Abbas’s diplomatic advisor Majdi al-Khaldi said the Palestinians believed they would get the votes needed, but that three council members — Bosnia, Gabon and Nigeria — were facing strong US pressure.
Other diplomats have said the Palestinian bid will likely fail.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has proposed that the Palestinians become a non-member observer state with a timetable for new negotiations with Israel leading to a peace deal within a year.
Israel rejected that proposal on Friday, however, with a foreign ministry spokesman saying that “you can’t cut corners by giving the Palestinians a state, however you describe it, which does not come from an agreement with Israel.”
A host of world leaders have meanwhile urged the two sides to get back to talks to avoid a diplomatic drama and possible violence.
“The resumption of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is the top priority,” said European Union president Herman Van Rompuy.
British Prime Minister David Cameron did not say how Britain would vote in any resolution on Palestinian statehood, but he said the Palestinians have a right to their own state and that Israel has a right to security.
“Peace will only come when Palestinians and Israelis sit down and talk to each other, make compromises, build trust and agree,” he told the UN assembly.
Turkey, meanwhile, which is embroiled in a diplomatic row with Israel, called for international “pressure” on the Jewish state to compel it to make peace with the Palestinians.