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Middle East

Abbas backs UN attack on Israeli settlements

The Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, has voiced his personal backing for the first time for a draft UN resolution condemning Israeli West Bank settlements, which he said had been worded in an effort to attract US support.

The Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership is promoting the UN resolution as part of a diplomatic effort to secure international declarations of support in the absence of progress towards direct negotiations with Israel.

The US announced earlier this month that it was abandoning its attempts to persuade Israel to restore a settlement moratorium that Mr Abbas has said is a precondition to the Palestinian Authority entering talks.

Washington has made clear its opposition to bringing issues between the Palestinians and Israel to the UN Security Council, but has not yet said explicitly whether it will veto the resolution – as some Palestinian officials privately admit they expect it to.

If it is pressed by Arab and other countries friendly to the Palestinian leadership, the draft could also pose difficult dilemmas for European Union countries, including two permanent members of the Security Council, Britain and France, since it is in accordance with their long-stated policies. Palestinian officials have suggested that they could push for the resolution as early as next month.

Israel is certain to lobby hard against the resolution, and its foreign ministry has already circulated a warning to its embassies abroad that it "can only hurt attempts to renew talks". A cable reportedly sent to its missions abroad says the issue of settlements is one of many topics to be decided as part of a permanent agreement, adding that"it is not effective nor constructive to isolate the issues".

President Abbas said in the Brazilian capital Brasilia yesterday that the draft used language that was calculated to gel with US pronouncements. "We drafted it using the same words that Secretary [of State Hillary] Clinton is using and so we don't see why the US would veto it," he said.

Brazil is one of several Latin American countries to have said they recognise a Palestinian state based on the borders that existed before the 1967 Israeli occupation.

Mr Abbas spoke as the British National Archive released papers under the UK's 30-year rule showing that the then Conservative Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, regarded Israel's settlement policy as "absurd" and "unrealistic" as early as 1980.

One of the papers reveals that Mrs Thatcher confided to the French President, Valéry Giscard D'Estaing, that she had tried to communicate her concerns to her Israeli counterpart, Menachem Begin, at the time. "His response was that Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] had been Jewish in biblical times and that they should therefore be so today," she told the French President.

Another note shows that Mrs Thatcher rejected attempts by the Foreign Office to persuade her that the Palestine Liberation Organisation, of which Mr Abbas is the latter-day leader, should not be seen as a "purely terrorist organisation" but also as a political movement. "This analysis just doesn't stand up," she scrawled on the minute. "It is riddled with inconsistencies."

It was another eight years before the PLO, under Yasser Arafat, recognised Israel's legitimacy and accepted the principle of a two-state solution.