Palestinians to apply for UN statehood next month

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will present a request for formal recognition of statehood to the United Nations on 20 September, officials confirmed this weekend, saying they have the support of 117 UN member states.

Israel and the US oppose the idea, saying it is a unilateral move in a process that should be negotiated between the parties. European nations have yet to decide their vote.

Officials in Ramallah said Palestine would seek recognition as the 194th member state of the United Nations, echoing UN General Assembly resolution 194 of December 1948, which refers to the return or compensation of refugees following the establishment of Israel.

Mr Abbas will personally hand the request to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who will refer it to Lebanon, the current president of the UN Security Council.

The United States has already said it will cast a veto in the Security Council, depriving the process of any legal value, but the Palestinians hope to win a solid majority and a moral victory in the General Assembly.

Mr Abbas told a meeting of his Fatah faction that the decision to seek UN recognition was "a result of Israeli intransigence and refusal to hold serious negotiations that would lead to ending the Israeli occupation and establishing an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital," according to the Palestinian news agency WAFA.

Mr Abbas added that "seeking UN recognition does not oppose the peace process and does not aim to isolate Israel. Rather, it will reinforce the two-state solution," WAFA reported.

Israeli President Shimon Peres, who held four rounds of secret peace talks with Mr Abbas before they were abandoned in August on the orders of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said: "A UN declaration would be meaningless and only prolong the conflict. I hope that both sides return to the negotiating table before September."

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Malki said the UN had "a moral, legal, political and historical responsibility to recognise Palestine as a state and grant it full membership".

Some Israeli leaders have voiced strong concerns about the emerging Palestinian bid. They fear that large-scale rallies could turn violent, plunging the region into another bloody intifada. The Israeli daily Haaretz said the tone of Israeli government reaction bordered on "hysteria".