* Status upgrade likely to pass at U.N. on Thursday
* Israel and its ally the U.S. oppose the move
* 13 European states pledge to support Palestinians
* Britain says wants commitment to peace talks
By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 28 A Palestinian bid for
indirect U.N. recognition of statehood received vows of support
from more than a dozen European nations as of Wednesday, and
diplomats said this backing may deter Israel from harsh
retaliation against the Palestinian Authority for seeking to
upgrade its U.N. status.
A Palestinian resolution on Thursday that would change its
U.N. observer status from an "entity" to a "non-member state,"
implicitly recognizing the sovereign state of Palestine, is
expected to pass easily in the 193-nation U.N. General Assembly.
But Israel, the United States and a handful of other members of
are expected to vote against it.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has been leading the
campaign to win support for the resolution, and some 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 towards a negotiated peace.
The U.S. State Department said Deputy Secretary of State
Bill Burns and U.S. Mideast peace envoy David Hale traveled to
New York on Wednesday in a last-ditch effort to get Abbas to
"We've been clear, we've been consistent with the
Palestinians, that we oppose observer state status in the
General Assembly and this resolution," State Department
spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
She repeated U.S. warnings that the move could hit U.S.
economic support for the Palestinians. The Israelis have also
warned that they might take deductions out of monthly transfers
of duties that Israel collects on the Palestinians' behalf.
The United States and Israel say the only genuine route to
statehood is at the negotiating table, through a peace accord
hammered out in direct talks with Israel.
Granting Palestinians the title of "non-member observer
state" falls short of full U.N. membership - something the
Palestinians tried but 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. The
Vatican numbers among the U.N.'s non-member states.
Hanan Ashrawi, a top Palestinian Liberation Organization
(PLO) official, told a news conference in Ramallah that "the
Palestinians can't be blackmailed all the time with money."
"Some rights aren't for sale," Ashrawi said. "If Israel
wants to destabilize the whole region, it can. 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."
ISRAELI RETALIATION MIGHT BE MODERATE
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. EST (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 make up
the majority of U.N. members, the Palestinian resolution is
virtually assured of securing more than the requisite simple
majority. But Abbas has been trying to amass as many European
yes votes as possible.
"A strong showing in Europe will emphasize to Israel and the
United States that the Palestinian Authority is widely seen
legitimate," a Western envoy said on condition of anonymity. "It
may also give Israel second thoughts about trying to bankrupt
the Palestinians for something that is really symbolic."
One senior Western diplomat predicted that at least 120-130
countries would vote for the Palestinian resolution.
As of Wednesday afternoon Austria, Denmark, Norway, Finland,
France, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal,
Spain and Switzerland had all pledged to support the Palestinian
resolution. Britain said it was prepared to vote yes, but only
if the Palestinians fulfilled certain conditions.
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. Diplomats
say that Israel seems hesitant to take strong action against
Abbas as it would antagonize Western European countries.
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.
It 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 earlier this week.
STALLED PEACE TALKS
No European nations announced they would vote against the
non-member state move, though several U.N. diplomats said
privately that the Czech Republic and Netherlands might be among
those that cast no votes. Neither has announced an official
Germany said it could not support the Palestinian move
though it was not clear if it would abstain, like Estonia and
Lithuania, or vote against it.
Europe's undecided countries included European Union members
Belgium, Bulgaria, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Romania,
Slovakia and Sweden. Several EU members said they were hoping
the 27-nation EU would reach a common position on the
Palestinian move, though U.N. diplomats said that EU unity was
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 their draft resolution, the Palestinians have pledged to
relaunch the peace process immediately following the U.N. vote.
Britain said it would be willing to support the Palestinian
move on Thursday if two conditions were met.
"The first is that the Palestinian Authority should indicate
a clear commitment to return immediately to negotiations without
preconditions," Foreign Seretary William Hague told parliament.
"The second assurance relates to membership of other
specialized U.N. agencies and action in the International
Criminal Court," he added.
Rights groups said that stance contradicted Britain's stated
commitment to accountability for serious crimes.
Israel and the United States have mooted withholding aid and
tax revenue that the Palestinian government in the West Bank
needs to survive. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has
also viewed options that include bringing down Abbas.