RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Wednesday he would be ready for negotiations with Israel “straightaway” if the U.N. recognized Palestine as a non-member state.
His comments appeared to be another attempt to assure the United States that the Palestinian campaign for status change at the U.N. is not an attempt to circumvent bilateral talks with Israel deadlocked since 2010 over settlement construction in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
“We have resolved to go to the U.N. to save the two-state solution and to achieve the rights of our people as an observer state,” Abbas told reporters during a visit by the Bulgarian president to the West Bank city of Ramallah.
“We’re ready to go back to negotiations straightaway. Going to the U.N. is not a substitute for negotiations. We are in need of negotiations to solve the final status of issues that face us both,” he said.
In a speech to the U.N. General Assembly last month, Abbas sought so-called “non-member state” status in the world body, a grade below the full recognition that eluded the Palestinians at the U.N. Security Council last year, due to insufficient backing.
U.S. envoy to the United Nations Susan Rice has said the Palestinian bid “would only jeopardize the peace process”. Israel also opposes a change in the Palestinians’s status.
In a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama last week, Abbas said the Palestinian move at the U.N. was aimed at securing “international recognition that would facilitate negotiations”.
The Palestinians’ current U.N. status is an “observer entity”. If Abbas wins, that would change to “observer state”, granting Palestinians access to bodies such as the International Criminal Court, where they could file complaints against Israel.
The president of the 193-member U.N. General Assembly, Vuk Jeremic, has said the issue will likely be debated in mid-November, after the U.S. presidential election.
The Palestinians need a simple majority for the upgrade, but predict that between 150 and 170 nations will vote in favor.
Peace talks were briefly renewed in 2010 but collapsed after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to extend a 10-month partial settlement construction freeze in the occupied West Bank, land Palestinians seek for a future state.
At the time, Abbas made a Palestinian return to negotiations conditional on halting settlement activity in the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem, areas Israel captured in a 1967 war.
That demand was absent from his latest remarks on reviving the U.S.-backed negotiations. Netanyahu has urged Abbas to resume talks unconditionally.
In response to the U.N. bid, Israeli officials have threatened financial sanctions against Abbas’s Palestinian Authority, which is dependent on Israeli-transferred customs duties and Western aid.
Lagging donor funding, partly as a result of Israeli and Western financial punishments for the more ambitious status change Abbas sought in 2011, has emptied Palestinian government coffers and stirred street protests.
Local elections in the West Bank this week brought gains to dissidents within Abbas’s ruling Fatah party. And a visit to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip on Tuesday by Qatar’s ruler also dealt a blow to the Palestinian Authority, which lost control of the enclave to the Islamist group in 2007.
Additional reporting by Jihan Abdalla, Editing by Jeffrey Heller