Palestine under pressure to drop bid
New York - The Palestinians on Tuesday came under intense pressure to drop a bid for UN membership as a state as diplomats worked frantically behind the scenes to head off a clash.
The White House announced that US President Barack Obama would meet with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday, after talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier in the day.
The United States has been leading the drive to stop the Palestinians submitting their application for full UN membership on Friday as threatened, and has vowed to veto any such bid to the UN Security Council.
And Israel has slammed the move as a bid to circumvent the peace talks that ground to a halt a year ago after Israel refused to extend a moratorium on settlement building.
Before leaving for New York, Netanyahu said "the path to peace is through dialogue and not through unilateral declarations.
"Israel does not want a worthless piece of paper, but a veritable peace with arrangements for security, a peace that will not disappear before it is even signed," he told a meeting of MPs and local officials from his Likud party.
Palestinians urge US to drop opposition
But Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki called on the US to drop its fierce opposition.
"I hope that the United States will change its position and follow the majority of countries which want to support the Palestinian right to self-determination and an independent state," Maliki said after meeting his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro.
He reaffirmed the Palestinians will seek Security Council recognition of an independent Palestinian state, and said they believed they could win the necessary votes of nine of the council's 15 members.
European nations are working behind the scenes to try to avert the confrontation, with the Middle East Quartet also seeking to draw up a statement that would coax Israel and the Palestinians back to talks.
Netanyahu, who is due to arrive in New York early on Wednesday, said: "It is very easy to yield to pressure and gain the applause of the international community.
"But Israel must preserve its interests, and a precipitous arrangement risks leading to rocket fire targeting all of Israel."
No progress on envoys’ statements
He has also called on Abbas to open up direct talks in New York and resume them in Jerusalem and Ramallah.
In response, Abbas told Fox News he would "meet any Israeli official any time" but said there would be no point in meeting if they had "nothing tangible" to offer.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met on Monday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to discuss the Quartet statement. But British Foreign Secretary William Hague, who met Abbas on Tuesday, said "no progress" had yet been made on drafting it.
In a letter to Britain's shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander, Hague said he was working to find a way forward and "create the strongest possible foundation for a return to negotiations".
Britain had deliberately withheld its position on the issue of Palestinian statehood at the UN, along with European partners, as it "maintains the pressure on both sides to show the flexibility needed to enable a return to negotiations", he wrote.
The Palestinians however have been buoyed by about 120 countries that have already bilaterally recognised a state of Palestine or backed such a position.
9 Security Council votes needed
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Tuesday sent a letter to UN chief Ban backing the Palestinians' bid.
"This represents an act of historic justice towards a people who carry with them, from time immemorial, all the pain and suffering of the world," he wrote.
And Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said: "Turkey is supporting this application fully and believes that this has been the commitment of the UN from the 1948 resolution 181 until now.
"And the recognition of Palestine does not mean the end of the negotiation."
If the Palestinians fail to win over nine of the 15 Security Council members, any resolution would fail, saving Obama from an embarrassing US veto.
Another option could then be for the UN General Assembly to welcome the Palestinians as an enhanced observer non-member state, a status so far enjoyed only by the Vatican.