UN bid by Palestinians will fail, says Netanyahu


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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday reassured his Cabinet that the Palestinians' UN membership bid would "fail" as 11th-hour efforts continued to find a formula that could nudge the parties back into direct negotiations.

Mr Netanyahu, who addresses the UN General Assembly in New York on Friday – the same day as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas – told ministers the Palestinians were "doing everything to torpedo direct peace negotiations".

The Palestinians have been prompted to make their UN application for full membership through the UN Security Council because they say past US-brokered efforts to find a basis for credible negotiations between the two sides have failed to make any progress.

Mr Abbas last week rejected a US- backed proposal for restarting negotiations, which the Palestinians say they were surprised to find contained nothing new of substance. Meanwhile, ambassador-level representatives of the international quartet of the US, EU, Russia and the UN met in New York yesterday in the hope of agreeing a statement this week aimed at encouraging negotiations.

Such a statement would not prevent the Palestinians going ahead with their UN application. But one of several possible permutations is that the application will be considered in detail by a representative committee of the Security Council – a process that could last many weeks, or even months.

At one level the Israeli Prime Minister was stating the obvious yesterday, since the US has said it is ready to use its veto in any Security Council vote on the application. But Mr Netanyahu, who told his ministers that the US was "deeply co-operating with us", will also be lobbying non-permanent members of the Security Council in New York in the hope of assembling a majority against the Palestinian application, obviating the need for a US veto.

Meanwhile there were signs yesterday that sections at least of Israel's government are wary of repeated US Congressional threats to cut off funding from the Palestinian Authority (PA) in retaliation for the UN application. Critics of the move have pointed out that it could put at risk the salaries of Palestinian security forces – many Western-trained – who have maintained a high level of co-operation with the Israeli military over the past two years.

An Israeli official familiar with security concerns yesterday declined to comment on US political debate but stressed the value put by Israel on such co-operation in maintaining "stability", including by countering what he said was the potential threat posed by Hamas in the West Bank. On possible threats that Israel would itself withhold customs revenues from the PA, he said the money belonged to the Palestinians and also went towards security force salaries.

Mr Netanyahu acknowledged yesterday that the Palestinians would be able to secure a majority in the UN General Assembly for a lesser category of UN membership. One option widely canvassed in recent weeks was for the Palestinians to seek "non-member state" status on the Vatican model, though Mr Abbas made clear on Friday they were seeking full membership through the Security Council.

An editorial in the liberal Israeli daily Haaretz praised Mr Abbas's televised address saying it showed Israelis a "strategic Palestinian partner, perhaps the last of them, bravely declaring that no one can abrogate the legitimacy of Israel".