Statehood beckons for Palestinians
The UN General Assembly was due to implicitly recognise a sovereign state of Palestine yesterday despite threats by the US and Israel to punish the Palestinian Authority if it goes through with its application by withholding much-needed funds from the West Bank government.
A resolution that would lift the Palestinian Authority's UN observer status from "entity" to "non-member state" was expected to pass easily in the 193-nation General Assembly. At least 15 European states planned to vote for it.
Israel, the US and a handful of other members were to vote against what they saw as a largely symbolic and counterproductive move by the Palestinians.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has been leading the campaign to win support for the resolution, which follows an eight-day conflict this month between Israel and Hamas Islamists in the Gaza Strip.
The US State Department said Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns and US Middle East peace envoy David Hale travelled to New York in a last-ditch effort to get Abbas to reconsider. The Palestinians gave no sign that they might back down.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Washington that the US's view was that the Palestinian move was misguided and that efforts should instead focus on reviving stalled Middle East peace efforts.
"The path to a two-state solution that fulfills the aspirations of the Palestinian people is through Jerusalem and Ramallah, not New York," she said. "The only way to get a lasting solution is direct negotiations."
Victoria Nuland, the department's spokesman, reiterated the US's warning that the move could cause a reduction in US economic support for the Palestinians.
The Israelis have warned they might make significant deductions in the monthly transfers of duties that Israel collects on the Palestinians' behalf.
Despite its fierce opposition, Israel seems anxious to avoid being diplomatically isolated.
It has recently toned down threats of retaliation in the face of wide international support for the initiative.
"The decision at the UN will change nothing on the ground," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. "It will not advance the establishment of a Palestinian state. It will delay it further."