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Friday 9 December 2016

Obama calls for new talks on Middle East to avoid vetoing Palestinian state

Rupert Cornwell in Washington

Published 22/09/2011 | 05:00

WARNING THAT there was "no shortcut" to a Middle East peace settlement, President Barack Obama sought yesterday to persuade Israeli and Palestinian leaders to restart direct negotiations -- and thus blunt the Palestinian bid for full United Nations membership that Washington has vowed to veto.

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But as Mr Obama held separate talks with Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, prospects of an early breakthrough seemed remote. With the US president sitting beside him, the Israeli prime minister flatly declared that any attempt to secure statehood via the UN would not succeed. "The Palestinians want statehood but aren't prepared to offer peace to Israel in return," Mr Netanyahu said.

Barring an astonishing last-minute reversal, Mr Abbas will make the application official when he addresses the General Assembly tomorrow. It is certain of broad but mainly symbolic approval by the assembly. But the critical arena is the 15-member Security Council, where the US would wield its veto, if a statehood resolution won the required majority of nine votes.

Mr Obama's overriding goal, however, is to prevent matters reaching that point, which would be a lose-lose situation for the US. A veto would shatter what remains of Washington's credibility in the region, after his embrace of the democracy movements of the "Arab Spring".

But to refrain from a veto would play into the hands of his Republican opponents at home, who accuse him of abandoning the Jewish state -- in the words of Mitt Romney, a leading contender for the 2012 nomination, of "throwing Israel under a bus".

Tightrope

In his address to the General Assembly, Mr Obama sought to walk that tightrope, reaffirming America's support for a Palestinian state, but stressing that a settlement could only be reached by negotiation and compromise, "not by statements and resolutions at the UN". Peace, he warned, "is hard work".

Addressing a domestic political audience as much as the world leaders listening in the chamber, Mr Obama pledged unwavering US backing for Israel.

Yesterday, Mr Netanyahu again called on the Palestinians to return to the bargaining table, but gave no public sign of any concession on settlements or anything else. Nor did Mr Obama go into specific issues in his speech.

The one hope is that procedural requirements mean any vote in the Security Council is probably some weeks off, offering a window in which a formula could be found for a restart of talks. And as Mr Obama spoke, frantic efforts were taking place to avert such a diplomatic disaster. (© Independent News Service)

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