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Barak: Focus on Europe to stop UN bid

July 24, 2011 3:31 P.M. (Updated: July 26, 2011 10:11 A.M.)
JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Sunday that Israel must exert all efforts to avoid a confrontation with the Palestinian Authority over its plan to seek recognition at the United Nations in September.

Barak told Israel's Army Radio that his government's main concern was to mobilize European support to stop the PA's bid.

The defense minister said he believed dialogue with the Palestinians was possible to prevent them seeking UN recognition.

On Saturday, President Mahmoud Abbas said Israel had forced Palestinians to take their campaign for statehood to the UN by refusing to end its occupation or stop building Jewish-only settlement building on Palestinian land.

"We are going to the United Nations because we are forced to, it is not a unilateral action," he told a gathering of diplomats attended by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

"What is unilateral is Israeli settlement," Abbas said at the meeting organized to finalize Palestinian strategy ahead of the UN General Assembly in September.

"We have not been able to return to negotiations with [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu because of his refusal to negotiate on the basis of the 1967 borders and to stop settlements."

Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians collapsed in September, shortly after Washington relaunched the first direct negotiations between the two sides for nearly two years.

Palestinians withdrew from the talks when Netanyahu refused to extend a partial freeze on settlement building despite generous incentives from US President Barack Obama.

"Our first, second and third choice is to return to negotiations," Abbas said on Saturday.

"Like the rest of the peoples of the world... we wish to be members of the General Assembly, members of the UN; no more, no less," he said, recalling the Palestinians had been living under Israeli occupation since the 1967 Six Day War.

A senior Palestinian official told AFP on condition of anonymity that preparations for the UN gambit would be completed on August 4, during a meeting of an Arab monitoring committee in Doha, attended by Qatar, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

An official letter would be sent to the United Nations during the first week of August, he added.

Addressing the gathering, Erdogan accused Israel of "intransigence," saying it turned its back on any possible solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and refused to lift its blockade of Gaza.

"The tragedy caused by Israel in Gaza cannot be explained," he said. "There is no other reality than to see women, children and innocent civilians killed in a barbaric and inhumane way."

He also ruled out normalization of relations with Israel as long as it refuses to apologize for the death of nine Turkish activists in a May 2010 commando raid on the lead ship in an international flotilla seeking to breach the Gaza blockade.

Both Erdogan and Abbas alluded to attempts to finalize a rapprochement between Abbas's West Bank-based Fatah movement and the radical Islamist Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.

"To get significant results we have to speak with one voice," Abbas told his audience, adding the decision to seek UN membership would have the backing of a large consensus from both Palestinian factions.

"God willing, Palestinian reconciliation will be achieved before we go to the UN," he said, referring to a formal end to years of enmity between the two agreed on April 27, but yet to be implemented politically.

Erdogan said his conservative government supports the Palestinian UN campaign.

But, he said, "We must first show that Palestinians are united," in reference to the Fatah-Hamas divide.

Abbas said 118 countries had already recognized the Palestinian state within the borders that preceded Israeli occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in June 1967 and that the total would rise to 130 by September.

AFP contributed to this report.

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