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Palestinians to seek UN state recognition

The West Bank Palestinian leadership formally decided to press ahead with efforts in September to win United Nations recognition of a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.

But the move could be a blow to efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

The leadership, made up of the Palestine Liberation Organisation's decision-making body and officials of the Palestinian Authority, the self-rule government in the West Bank, said the goal was to bring a state of Palestine into the family of nations of the world.

It said it approved the approach in principle without adding operative steps about how to follow on from recognition.

The idea of asking the UN General Assembly to recognise a Palestinian state inside the ceasefire lines that held until the 1967 Six Day War is a reflection of Palestinian frustration with stalemated peace talks with Israel.

In recent weeks, however, Palestinian leaders have been giving signs of backing away from the initiative and towards softening their position over the renewal of peace negotiations, as both the UN initiative and their drive to set up a unity government with the rival Hamas in Gaza have foundered.

Some Palestinians believe that contrary to the notion that UN recognition would destroy peace talks, such world status would force Israel to make concessions when negotiations resumed.

Recognition of a Palestinian state by the UN General Assembly would carry considerable diplomatic weight but no legal clout. Only the UN Security Council can add a nation to the world body and the US government has repeatedly expressed its opposition to the move, while stopping short of saying it would veto such a resolution.

Israel has condemned the Palestinian UN initiative, saying that it torpedoes efforts to reach a negotiated solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

US president Barack Obama has offered a formula under which a Palestinian state would be set up with borders based on the pre-1967 war ceasefire lines that delineate the West Bank, with agreed-upon swaps of territory between the two sides. Previous Israeli governments have agreed to the concept, but that did not result in a peace accord.

The current Israeli leadership, under prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has reacted coolly to the Obama proposal. Mr Netanyahu has rejected an Israeli withdrawal from all of the West Bank and wants to retain Israeli control of east Jerusalem, claimed by the Palestinians as their capital. Israel pulled out of Gaza unilaterally in 2005.

Palestinians have been insisting that peace negotiations can be resumed only if Israel stops all construction in its West Bank settlements and Jewish neighbourhoods in east Jerusalem, also considered settlements by the Palestinians and much of the world.

That would go well beyond a 10-month moratorium on new housing starts in the West Bank that Mr Netanyahu imposed as an incentive to restart the talks. The negotiations resumed nine months later, last September, but were halted when the moratorium ended and was not renewed.

Now Israel rejects preconditions for peace talks and says that all issues, including the future of the settlements, should be on the negotiating table.