US and European diplomats are scrambling to stave off a Palestinian quest for statehood at the United Nations on the eve of the world body’s annual General Assembly. As leaders are arriving in New York, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her allies are engaged in what she called “intensive” diplomacy to present an alternative plan that would allow for the resumption of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians and avoid a diplomatic showdown later in the week.
“We are engaged in extremely intensive ongoing diplomacy,” Clinton told reporters, cautioning that there was still time to broker a deal.
“I think it’s early in the week. A lot of people are not even here yet; there’s been an enormous number of meetings by many different parties talking to each other,” she said.
One of Clinton’s top aides, however, told ABC News in private that so far reporters “should not be optimistic.”
Indeed, there were few public signs on Monday that the Palestinians could be swayed to halt their effort. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas reiterated today his intention to pursue full recognition at the United Nations Security Council, despite what he called “tremendous” pressure not to. Abbas did leave the door open that he could cut a deal for the right offer, but ruled out doing so for many of the suggestions being floated. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, took to Twitter to call on Abbas to meet him in New York for an immediate resumption of negotiations.
The United States and others have been working on a package deal to entice the Palestinians to abandon their efforts and return to negotiations.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, now an envoy of the so-called “Quartet” of Mideast mediators (US, European Union, UN, and Russia), is shopping around the elements of a plan that would avoid a Palestinian vote on recognition at the United Nations (and avoid a US veto), get the parties back to the negotiating table, and save face on all sides.
Officials caution that the package won’t work unless there’s something in it for everyone and that the final contours of a deal have yet to be decided, but said it included a call for negotiations to begin in about a month, based on the pre-1967 lines with agreed land swaps that President Obama called for earlier this year, and a timeline to end negotiations in six months to a year. It would also include the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and would allow President Abbas to pursue a lesser resolution at the United Nations, allowing him to save face while avoiding a promised American veto.
Of course such a package faces numerous hurdles. First, the US and its allies must convince Russia to sign onto a Quartet statement that endorses Israel as a Jewish state. Moscow blocked a similar statement by the group a couple months ago.
Second, and perhaps harder, it has to sell it to the parties themselves
To that end Secretary Clinton has had a number of meetings over the past two days to try and hammer out a deal. She met yesterday with EU High Representative for Foreign Policy Catherine Ashton and they may meet again today. Ashton met with the head of the Arab League and is meeting with Abbas later today to float some ideas.
Clinton meets with her Russian counterpart tonight in a meeting that US officials say will be key in determining whether the Quartet proposal has legs or not. If the Russians agree, the Quartet could meet at Clinton’s level as early as tomorrow. The Quartet met at a lower level today to discuss the various proposals.
In case this doesn’t work, aides say Clinton is raising the issue of the Palestinian vote in every other meeting she has with world leaders this week, urging them to vote against the recognition of Palestine. The Palestinians meanwhile, are circulating a pamphlet explaining why countries should support their effort.
Should the Quartet initiative fail, the US is preparing for a vote in the United Nations. If the Palestinians seek a vote in the Security Council as they have promised to, the US has vowed to veto the resolution. A US veto, however, would be more egg on America’s face in a region where it already has trouble making friends. US officials hope that the US could abstain and get enough countries on the 15-member council to do so as well or vote no, in which case the resolution not have enough votes to pass.
A Security Council diplomat tells ABC News that it appears there are enough countries willing to vote against the resolution or abstain that it will not pass. Palestinian officials, however, have been quoted as saying they have enough votes to force a US veto.
If President Abbas decides to take the easier route through the General Assembly he has almost a sure shot at getting approved.