(Corrects name of Palestine Liberation Organization)
* Palestinian UN status upgrade expected to be approved
* U.S., Israel oppose Palestinian push for "state" status
* More than dozen European states to support Palestinians
By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 29 The U.N. General Assembly
is set to implicitly recognize a sovereign state of Palestine on
Thursday despite threats by the United States and Israel to
punish the Palestinian Authority by withholding much-needed
funds for the West Bank government.
A resolution that would change the Palestinian Authority's
U.N. observer status from "entity" to "non-member state," like
the Vatican, is expected to pass easily in the 193-nation
Israel, the United States and a handful of other members are
planning to vote against what they see as a largely symbolic and
counterproductive move by the Palestinians, which takes place on
the 65th anniversary of the assembly's adoption of resolution
181 on the partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has been leading the
campaign to win support for the resolution, and over a dozen
European governments have offered him their support after an
eight-day conflict this month between Israel and Islamists in
the Gaza Strip, who are pledged to Israel's destruction and
oppose his efforts toward a negotiated peace.
The U.S. State Department said on Wednesday that Deputy
Secretary of State Bill Burns and U.S. Middle East peace envoy
David Hale traveled to New York on Wednesday in a last-ditch
effort to get Abbas to reconsider.
The Palestinians gave no sign they were turning back.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton repeated to reporters in
Washington on Wednesday the U.S. view that the Palestinian move
was misguided and efforts should focus instead on reviving the
stalled Middle East peace process.
"The path to a two-state solution that fulfills the
aspirations of the Palestinian people is through Jerusalem and
Ramallah, not New York," she said. "The only way to get a
lasting solution is to commence direct negotiations."
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland reiterated U.S.
warnings that the move could cause a reduction of U.S. economic
support for the Palestinians. The Israelis have also warned they
might take significant deductions out of monthly transfers of
duties that Israel collects on the Palestinians' behalf.
Despite its fierce opposition, Israel seems concerned not to
find itself diplomatically isolated. It has recently toned down
threats of retaliation in the face of wide international support
for the initiative, notably among its European allies.
"The decision at the United Nations will change nothing on
the ground," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in
Jerusalem. "It will not advance the establishment of a
Palestinian state. It will delay it further."
'SLAP IN THE FACE'
Granting Palestinians the title of "non-member observer
state" falls short of full U.N. membership - something the
Palestinians failed to achieve last year. But it would allow
them access to the International Criminal Court and some other
international bodies, should they choose to join them.
Hanan Ashrawi, a top Palestine Liberation Organization
official, told a news conference in Ramallah that "the
Palestinians can't be blackmailed all the time with money."
"If Israel wants to destabilize the whole region, it can,"
she said. "We are talking to the Arab world about their support,
if Israel responds with financial measures, and the EU has
indicated they will not stop their support to us."
Peace talks have been stalled for two years, mainly over the
issue of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which have
expanded despite being deemed illegal by most of the world.
In the draft resolution, the Palestinians have pledged to
relaunch the peace process immediately following the U.N. vote.
As there is little doubt about how the United States will
vote when the Palestinian resolution to upgrade its U.N. status
is put to a vote sometime after 3 p.m. (2000 GMT) on Thursday,
the Palestinian Authority has been concentrating its efforts on
lobbying wealthy European states, diplomats say.
With strong support from the developing world that makes up
the majority of U.N. members, the resolution is virtually
assured of securing more than the requisite simple majority.
Palestinian officials hope for more than 130 yes votes.
Abbas has been trying to amass as many European votes in
favor as possible.
Austria, Denmark, Norway, Finland, France, Greece, Iceland,
Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and
Switzerland all pledged to support the Palestinian resolution.
Britain said it was prepared to vote yes, but only if the
Palestinians fulfilled certain conditions.
Diplomats said the Czech Republic was expected to vote
against the move, potentially dashing European hopes to avoid a
three-way split in the vote. Germany and the Netherlands said
they planned to abstain, like Estonia and Lithuania.
Ashrawi said the positive responses from European states
were encouraging and sent a message of hope to all Palestinians.
"This constitutes a historical turning point and opportunity
for the world to rectify a grave historical injustice that the
Palestinians have undergone since the creation of the state of
Israel in 1948," she said.
A strong backing from European nations could make it awkward
for Israel to implement harsh retaliatory measures. But Israel's
reaction might not be so measured if the Palestinians seek ICC
action against Israel on charges of war crimes, crimes against
humanity or other crimes the court would have jurisdiction over.
Israel also seems wary of weakening the Western-backed
Abbas, especially after the political boost rival Hamas received
from recent solidarity visits to Gaza by top officials from
Egypt, Qatar and Tunisia.
Hamas militants, who control Gaza and have had icy relations
with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, unexpectedly
offered Abbas their support this week.
One Western diplomat said the Palestinian move was almost an
insult to recently re-elected U.S. President Barack Obama.
"It's not the best way to convince Mr. Obama to have a more
positive approach toward the peace process," said the diplomat,
who was planning to vote for the resolution. "Three weeks after
his election, it's basically a slap in the face."
(Andrew Quinn in Washington, Noah Browning in Ramallah, Jeffrey
Heller in Jerusalem, Michelle Nichols in New York, and Reuters
bureaux in Europe and elsewhere; Editing by Peter Cooney and