Netanyahu, Abbas to make rival UN pitches

2012-09-27 11:01
Israeli soldiers and Jewish settlers are seen during clashes between Israeli settlers and Palestinians near a Jewish settlement. (File, AP)

Israeli soldiers and Jewish settlers are seen during clashes between Israeli settlers and Palestinians near a Jewish settlement. (File, AP)

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New York - The leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority both address the United Nations on Thursday, one seeking recognition for his state, the other warning of a dire threat to his.

One year after Mahmud Abbas made his historic appeal to the UN General Assembly for Palestinian statehood, he returned with the more modest goal of seeing his territory given a kind of elevated non-member observer status.

His Israeli sparring partner, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, opposes even that goal while direct talks are suspended, but he came to New York with a more pressing concern - Iran's nuclear ambitions.

"I will reiterate that the most dangerous country in the world must not be allowed to arm itself with the most dangerous weapon in the world," Netanyahu said on Sunday, as he prepared for the key diplomatic voyage.

Israel has made it clear that it would launch pre-emptive military action rather than accept that Iran - whose leaders regularly issue bloodcurdling threats against the Jewish state - arm itself with the atomic bomb.

World powers take the threat seriously, and fear any new conflict would further destabilise the already volatile Middle East and already weak global economy, and many spoke out this week in favour of a diplomatic solution.

Case for tougher sanctions

For its part Iran - in the form of its mercurial president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - came to New York to dismiss the threat posed by "uncultured Zionists" and insist its uranium enrichment has only peaceful ends.

He defiantly accused the Western powers and Israel, currently the only nuclear-armed state in the Middle East, albeit an undeclared one -- of using "nuclear intimidation" to browbeat his nation.

But Israel will hope for support from the United States at least, after President Barack Obama told the General Assembly that Americans "will do what we must" to halt the Iranian weapons programme.

Netanyahu will never win UN approval for a unilateral strike but will press the case for tougher international sanctions. No meeting with Obama has been scheduled, but he has an appointment with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Abbas, meanwhile, plans to launch a campaign to see Palestine recognised as a non-state member within the border that existed before the 1967 Six Day War - when Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem.

The Palestinians see this as the basis for border negotiations with Israel on a permanent solution to their conflict, but Israel and its US ally oppose recognition before the terms of the final deal are agreed.

Access to agencies

"We want Palestine back on the map, on the 1967 lines, with east Jerusalem as its capital, carried by 150 to 170 nations," Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told journalists last week.

The Palestinian leadership was formerly opposed to non-state membership, seeing this as a distraction and possible dead end, but their political clout has only diminished in the year since their initial bid.

Enhanced observer status would at least give them access to more agencies, such as the World Health Organisation or International Criminal Court.

If it did come to a vote, the Palestinians would probably win a majority of UN members, but they have reportedly promised Washington not to push the issue too hard until after the 6 November US presidential election.

A State Department official confirmed Clinton had met Abbas late on Wednesday in a New York hotel on the eve of his speech and that the question of a new UN observer status had come up.

"We have had conversations with the president on this topic," the official said. "We have made very clear that our goal is to resume direct talks and that the idea of going to the UN is not the road that takes us there."

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