* Palestinians due to request non-member status this month
* Likely to win approval in 193-member General Assembly
* France previously backed Palestinian UNESCO entry
By John Irish
PARIS, Nov 22 France on Thursday indicated it
would support efforts by the Palestinians to secure a diplomatic
upgrade at the United Nations in a quest for greater
Frustrated that their bid for full U.N. membership failed in
the U.N. Security Council last year amid U.S. opposition, the
Palestinians have launched a watered-down bid for recognition as
a "non-member state", similar to the Vatican's U.N. status.
This request can be approved by the U.N. General Assembly,
where Washington has no veto, and seems certain to pass.
Without specifically saying which way France would vote,
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius hinted at support.
"I would like to remind you of campaign pledge number 59 of
... President Francois Hollande, which said that there would be
an international recognition of a Palestinian state," Fabius
told members of the French Senate. A French government source
said the comment was intended to indicate that France was
leaning towards voting for the Palestinian request.
The proposal, on which the General Assembly is due to vote
this month, would recognise Palestinian statehood implicitly and
could also grant access to bodies such as the International
Criminal Court in The Hague, where the Palestinians could file
complaints against Israel.
However, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is seeking
explicit approval from European powers to strengthen his
position, knowing that a 'yes' vote would anger Israel and the
United States and perhaps make future talks on a two-state
solution more difficult.
The United States says Palestinian statehood must be
achieved by negotiation and has called on Abbas to return to
peace talks that collapsed in 2010 over Israeli settlement
construction in the occupied West Bank.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague told parliament on
Tuesday: "While there is any chance of achieving a return to
talks in the coming months, we continue to advise President
Abbas against attempts to win Palestinian observer state status.
"We judge that this would make it harder to secure a return
to negotiations, and could have very serious consequences for
the Palestinian Authority."
During a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
on Oct. 31, Hollande said he regretted "the temptation of the
Palestinian Authority to go to the General Assembly to get what
it couldn't through negotiations".
But Fabius, who met Abbas last weekend amid attempts to
secure a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in their Gaza
conflict, appeared to be signalling a change of tack.
Abbas's proposal comes at a time when peace talks with
Israel show no sign of resuming.
"France is a friend of Israel and the Palestinian people and
is defending peace, which means the security of Israel and the
right of the Palestinians to have a viable democratic and
peaceful state," Fabius said.
The government of president Nicolas Sarkozy broke from its
closest allies last year by voting in favour of giving the
Palestinians full membership of the U.N.'s cultural agency
UNESCO. It had also promised to support Abbas if he opted to
seek non-member status.