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RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - The United States is showing "disdain" for Arabs by trying to prevent the Palestinians from gaining statehood recognition at the United Nations, a senior Palestinian official said on Wednesday.
Washington fears the Palestinians' move at the United Nations, expected later this month, could further snarl flagging U.S. efforts to revive Middle East peace talks, which broke down last year following a row over Jewish settlements.
David Hale, the U.S. Middle East peace envoy, met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday in the latest American effort to halt the U.N. maneuverings but he apparently did not manage to bring a restart of direct talks with Israel any closer.
"(The president) repeated his stance that the Palestinian and Arab position is to go to the United Nations, given that the Israeli side still refuses to acknowledge clear terms of reference and is building settlements," senior Abbas aide Nabil Abu Rdainah told Reuters after the meeting.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeated his call on Wednesday for Abbas to return to direct peace talks and stay the course.
"What is important is to start, to continue, and to complete the talks," the Israeli leader said.
Yasser Abed Rabbo, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), said U.S. policy now appeared confined to one point: stopping the Palestinians from embarking on their diplomatic initiative at the United Nations.
"The subject is not settlements, or Palestinian independence or the rights of the Palestinian people, or halting the criminal violations perpetrated by the settlers against the Palestinian people," he said.
"All this is being ignored and the only issue has become the issue of us not going to the United Nations," he told Voice of Palestine radio.
"This shows not only disdain for the Palestinian position, but also scorn for what is happening in the Arab region -- a state of revival seeking justice for the Arab peoples and justice for the whole region."
Popular uprisings have toppled Arab autocrats in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya this year.
Arguing that the two-decade old peace process has run out of steam, the Palestinians are seeking an upgrade in their diplomatic standing at the United Nations. They are presenting the move as a step toward leveling the playing field with Israel.
Like Washington, Israel opposes the move, saying it aims to undermine its own legitimacy and that Palestinian statehood can only be achieved through a negotiated deal.
The Palestinians are seeking an independent state in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem -- territories occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.
The last round of peace talks, which lasted only a few weeks, broke down last October over the issue of Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The Palestinians say the settlements undermine their chances of establishing sovereignty over the territories.
Hale and Dennis Ross, a senior White House official, met Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Tuesday.
Hale's meeting with Abbas followed a phone call on Tuesday by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the Palestinian leader.
Clinton had urged Abbas to "continue to work hard with us to avoid a negative scenario in New York at the end of the month," a State Department spokesperson said, referring to the meeting of the General Assembly.
Asked about the visit by the U.S. envoy, Abed Rabbo said: "We will see today, but our expectations are not at all high, especially in light of what we hear on the American position."
U.S. opposition to the U.N. move will torpedo any Palestinian application for full membership of the world body. That requires the approval of the Security Council, where the United States wields veto power.
Anticipating that, Palestinian officials have said they could also table a General Assembly resolution that would upgrade their standing from an "entity" to a "non-member state" -- the status held by the Vatican.
Palestinian officials have in recent days rowed back from statements indicating that they plan to apply for full U.N. membership regardless of the U.S. position. They now say their course of action has yet to be decided.
Additional reporting by Ori Lewis in Jerusalem; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Rosalind Russell