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U.N. Faces Showdown Over Vote on Palestinian Statehood

September 14, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will go to the United Nations next week and ask the world body to recognize a Palestinian state. Jeffrey Brown reports on the move that is opposed by Israel and the Obama administration.
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JEFFREY BROWN: And finally tonight, our second Middle East story: the coming showdown at the United Nations over a Palestinian state.

Furniture makers in the West Bank have been crafting a chair for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to take to New York next week for the opening of the U.N. General Assembly. It’s embroidered with a message: “Palestine’s Right. A Full Membership in the United Nations.”

Abbas has said that’s exactly what he wants.

MAHMOUD ABBAS, Palestinian Authority president (through translator): We will go together to the United Nations to get a full membership for a Palestinian state in this global forum.

JEFFREY BROWN: Israel has strongly opposed the move. And Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned the Palestinians today to think twice.

AVIGDOR LIEBERMAN, Israeli foreign minister (through translator): The one thing that I can say with full confidence is that the moment they make a unilateral decision, there will be grave and difficult consequences, and I hope that we don’t reach those grave and difficult consequences.

JEFFREY BROWN: The Obama administration has expressed its own opposition. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spelled out U.S. concerns again on Tuesday, after meeting with the Romanian foreign minister.

SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: I think the issue is not simply that action in New York will not bring peace and stability, but it will create more distractions toward achieving that goal, which is certainly the commitment of the Obama administration.

And so we have to keep our eye on what the objective truly is. But our hope is that we get the parties back into a frame of mind and a process where they will actually begin negotiating again.

JEFFREY BROWN: In fact, attempts to restart negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians toward a deal on borders and other issues broke down last year. The resulting stalemate has helped fuel the Palestinians’ push for recognition at the U.N.

Now last-minute efforts to avert a diplomatic collision, or something worse, are under way, with a number of high-level delegations in the Middle East this week. They include U.S. Special Envoy David Hale and Dennis Ross of the National Security Council, plus the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton.

CATHERINE ASHTON, European Union: What we are very clear about from the European Union is that the way forward is negotiation. We want to see a just and fair settlement. We want to see the people of Palestine and the people of Israel living side by side in peace and security.

JEFFREY BROWN: Ultimately, the United States has threatened to veto the statehood proposal if it comes before the U.N. Security Council.

The Palestinians could decide instead to take their case to the full U.N. General Assembly and seek non-voting observer-state status similar to that of the Vatican.