Two top Obama administration envoys are meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas today in a last-ditch effort to stop him from going to the United Nations next week to get recognition for a Palestinian state, a move that would almost certainly lead to an American veto.
A top European Union official and former British prime minister Tony Blair are also conducting shuttle diplomacy between Jerusalem and Ramallah to try and get Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table and put off the U.N. bid.
Officials on all sides, however, admit their efforts are essentially futile at this late stage.
Dennis Ross from the National Security Council and David Hale from the State Department met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Tuesday night. An Israeli spokesman declined to reveal what was said.
Hale and Ross are due to meet with Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah this afternoon. The session follows a contentious meeting last week over the bid that Abbas on Wednesday called "irreversible."
"There is a lot of very, very energetic diplomacy to see if there's a way to avoid a diplomatic train wreck at the U.N. next week," an Israeli official told ABC News. "We're working on a formula that the international community can endorse that will change the dynamic."
Palestinians to Seek Statehood at U.N. Next Week
The United Nations General Assembly opens next Wednesday and Abbas is due to speak on Friday. The same day, the Palestinians say they will apply for full membership with the United Nations Security Council, an application the U.S. has said it would veto.
Netanyahu is also due to speak that day after some discussion over whether he should attend, thereby raising the profile of he Palestinian bid.
"The General Assembly is not a place where Israel usually receives a fair hearing," Netanyahu told reporters in Jerusalem today. "But I still decided to tell the truth before anyone who would like to hear it."
"I have decided to convey the twin messages of direct negotiations for peace and the quest for peace," he said.
If the U.S. vetoes the Palestinian bid, Palestinians also have the option of going to the General Assembly and putting forward a resolution to have their status upgraded from "observer entity" to "observer state," akin to the Vatican. That would require a two-thirds majority in the 193-member body, votes they say they have.
Once recognized as a state by the U.N., Palestine could join bodies like the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice, paving the way to officially accusing Israelis of war crimes in the international arena.
The Palestinians are working with a number of European nations to write a General Assembly resolution that most - if not all - of the 27-member European Union could support, lending instant legitimacy to Palestinian statehood.
"The only way of getting a lasting solution is through direct negotiations between the parties and the route to that lies in Jerusalem and in Ramallah, not in New York," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday, adding to President Obama's statement that the bid is a "distraction." An American veto would isolate the U.S., especially in the Middle East where the U.S. is seen as blindly supporting Israel.
"They have chosen to be less sensitive to international law and more sensitive to bilateral relations with Israel that has made them more biased," said Palestinian Authority spokesman Ghassan Khatib.
Israel Increasingly Isolated Over Palestinian Issue
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned of "far-reaching and severe ramifications," while Netanyahu reportedly told colleagues behind closed doors that a successful U.N. bid would "stymie negotiations for the next 60 years."
Peace talks broke down a year ago after a moratorium on Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank expired. Settlements are considered illegal by the international community, and the Palestinians say they won't come back to the negotiating table until settlement building stops. Israel counters that there can't be pre-conditions for negotiations.
Now Palestinians are looking for international recognition based on lines before the 1967 six-day war in which Israel won control of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza strip. Palestinian officials say they'd be willing to start negotiating again if Israel agrees to halt settlement expansion and use the 1967 borders with land swaps as a basis for negotiations.
"The differences are not between Palestinians and Americans, the problem is between the Palestinians and Israel," said the Palestinian Authority's Khatib. "But if they're not able to convince Israel on anything, there will be nothing new."
Israel points to the lack of success in negotiations during last year's settlement freeze and asks why anything should be different this time around. Netanyahu has conceded that "painful compromises" will have to be made but has called the 1967 borders "indefensible."
Abbas is planning to speak to Palestinians on Friday evening and rallies are being organized across the Palestinian cities in the coming days as the Palestinian delegation heads to New York.
There is ever-present worry that the statehood demonstrations could turn violent, though the Palestinian Authority has said it will do its utmost to keep the peace. An article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz toda revealed that the PA had requested anti-riot gear from Israel.
For its part, Israel has reportedly added 20 percent more forces in the West Bank and spent more than $20 million on non-lethal crowd dispersion weapons including tear gas, plastic bullets and "skunk," a nausea-inducing spray.
The U.N. bid comes as Israel finds itself increasingly isolated in a region where it already had few friends. Relations with Turkey have broken down over Israel's refusal to apologize for the deaths of eight Turks and a Turkish-American on last year's aid flotilla bound for Gaza. Israel says its forces were acting in self-defense and has expressed regret. Israel's embassy in Cairo was attacked last week and its diplomatic staff was forced to evacuate.
On Wednesday night, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman told ABC News it was also pulling back its diplomatic staff from its embassy in the Jordanian capital of Amman because of a protest planned for Thursday evening, though he said they would go back after the weekend.