Arabs to push for Palestinian statehood bid

CAIRO Mon Sep 12, 2011 5:41pm EDT

CAIRO (Reuters) - Arab states will push for a fully-fledged Palestinian state at the United Nations next week, the Qatari prime minister said on Monday, despite a U.S. threat to block such a move.

Earlier on Monday, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who is in Cairo for talks with officials at an Arab foreign ministers' meeting on the Palestinian U.N. bid, said the European Union has still not decided on a united position yet.

The Palestinians decided to seek United Nations recognition of statehood after years of negotiations with Israel failed to deliver the independent state they want to establish in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem -- areas occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East War.

The Palestinians currently hold U.N. "observer" status. Full member status would require approval in the Security Council, where Israel's ally the United States had said it would veto any such resolution.

"The Arabs had agreed to apply to the United Nations for a full-fledged Palestinian state with its capital East Jerusalem," Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, chairman of the follow-up committee on the Palestinian U.N. bid, said at the start of the meeting.

"At this meeting, we will look into the steps that has been taken to go to the United Nations," he said before a closed session began.

Diplomats have said it is not clear what the Palestinians will do when the U.N. General Assembly opens on September 19. They could seek lower status as a "non-member state," which would require a simple majority of the 193-nation Assembly.

Ashton, speaking after meeting Egypt's foreign minister Mohamed Kamel Amr in Cairo, said: "There is no resolution on the table yet, so there is no position."

"What we're very clear about from the European Union is that the way forward is negotiations," she said. "We want to see a just and fair settlement, we want to see the people of Palestine and the people of Israel living side by side in peace and security, and I will do everything I can to help achieve that."

Ashton left the meeting minutes after it began, saying that the EU believed that a Palestinian state should come through negotiations.

Palestinian officials say that the European Union was waiting to see the text of the resolution that the Palestinians will submit to the United Nations.

President Mahmoud Abbas, heading the Palestinian delegation to the meeting at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo, has been under U.S. pressure not to go ahead with the U.N. bid.

Before the meeting began, he met with the head of the Arab League, Nabil Elaraby, to discuss the main elements of the Palestinian resolution, Egypt's state news agency MENA said. He also met separately with Ashton.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson said for the first time last week that Washington would use its veto power in a Security Council vote for full recognition as a member state. Washington says statehood can only come via agreement with Israel.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan is due to address the 22-nation Arab League on Tuesday.

The Palestinian Authority was set up in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to administer Palestinian affairs in 1993.

Qatar, which won praise from the United States for its backing of Libyan rebels who toppled veteran leader Muammar Gaddafi, has taken a prominent role in organizing support for the Palestinian bid.

(Reporting by Ayman Samir and Seham Eloraby, Writing By Sami Aboudi and Yasmine Saleh)

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