Backed by Hamas, Palestinians eye Thursday vote for U.N. upgrade

UNITED NATIONS Mon Nov 26, 2012 4:19pm EST

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The Palestinian Authority has circulated a revised draft resolution to U.N. member states calling for an upgrade of its U.N. status to an "observer state" ahead of a planned vote on the issue by the 193-member world body on Thursday.

A senior Western diplomat said only minor changes were made to the text distributed on Monday, which seems certain to win U.N. approval as the General Assembly is mostly made up of post-colonial states historically sympathetic to the Palestinians.

In an unexpected move, the Islamist group Hamas - which governs the Gaza Strip and just fought a fierce, eight-day conflict with Israel - gave backing on Monday to President Mahmoud Abbas's attempt to win more U.N. clout. Abbas holds sway in the occupied West Bank.

The Palestinians are currently considered an observer "entity" at the United Nations. Acceptance of the Palestinians as a non-member state, similar to the Vatican's U.N. status, would implicitly recognize Palestinian statehood.

The upgrade could also grant the Palestinians access to bodies like the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where they could file complaints against Israel. Abbas is due to travel to New York for the planned vote on Thursday.

Israel and the United States oppose the move at the United Nations by the Palestinians and have called on Abbas to return to peace talks that collapsed in 2010 over Israeli settlement construction in the occupied West Bank.

"We continue to try to dissuade the Palestinians from taking this action. We think it's going to be complicating and potentially a step backwards in terms of the larger goal, which is a negotiated solution," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on Monday.

FUNDING RISK

If approved, the U.N. resolution would "accord to Palestine Non-member Observer State status in the United Nations, without prejudice to the acquired rights, privileges and role of the Palestine Liberation Organization in the United Nations as the representative of the Palestinian people."

The latest draft resolution, obtained by Reuters, also reiterated the Palestinian Authority's commitment to the "two-state solution" in which Israel and an independent Palestinian state would co-exist in peace.

An Israeli official said earlier this month that if the Palestinians pushed on with the U.N. bid, Israel may cancel the Paris Protocol, a key economic accord it maintains with the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority.

The United States has also suggested that funding for the Palestinians - and possibly some funding for the United Nations - could be at risk if the Palestinians seek the upgrade.

"We think the money should go forward in the interest of the Palestinian people, regardless of whether their leaders make bad decisions," Nuland said. "That said .. we have said to the Palestinians, that they should not count on a favorable response from the (U.S.) Congress, if they go forward with this."

A 1990s U.S. law prohibits American funding to U.N. organizations that grant full membership to any group that does not have "internationally recognized attributes" of statehood. The Palestinians are not seeking U.N. membership.

The Palestinians launched their watered-down bid for recognition as an "observer state" after an attempt to gain full U.N. membership last year failed amid U.S. opposition in the U.N. Security Council.

(Additional reporting by Andrew Quinn; Editing by Paul Simao)

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