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US envoys head back to Middle East

Sept. 13, 2011 3:17 P.M. (Updated: Sept. 15, 2011 11:53 A.M.)
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Two US envoys return to the Middle East this week to try to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and avert a Palestinian bid for UN membership, sources familiar with the matter said on Tuesday.

US Middle East peace envoy David Hale and senior White House official Dennis Ross head back one week after a round of talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders appeared to make no headway, the sources said on condition of anonymity.

President Barack Obama's administration is scrambling to head off a Palestinian plan to seek full United Nations membership during the UN General Assembly session that begins on Monday.

US officials fear the Palestinian move could complicate flagging efforts to resume direct peace talks, which broke down last year with the expiration of a 10-month partial Israeli moratorium on Jewish settlement construction on land the Palestinians want for their state.

Tel Aviv is lobbying against the Palestinian bid, which it sees as an effort to isolate and delegitimize Israel and to extend the conflict into new arenas such as the International Criminal Court.

Speaking to Reuters after news of the US mission broke, a senior aide to President Mahmoud Abbas said the plan was still to seek full membership for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, lands that Israel occupied in the 1967 Middle East war.

"We are going to the UN and to the Security Council and we will ask for full membership for a Palestinian state on the borders of 1967," Mohammad Shtayyeh said. "This does not go against any efforts towards serious peace negotiations."

Last minute efforts

Earlier, Shtayyeh said the Palestinian leadership still had an open mind and would listen to any proposals but suggested that the current US push had come too late.

"The issue for us is not either United Nations or peace talks, we see these two things as complementary to each other and not contradictory to each other," he told a news conference.

"We are open-minded to any proposal. And we are ready to engage with any proposal. But this is not a step to really stop us from going to the United Nations," he added. "If the whole idea of a proposal is to engage peacefully then you don't really bring it in the last five minutes of the hour."

The Palestinians are now UN observers without voting rights. To become a full member, their bid would have to be approved by the UN Security Council, where the United States has said it will veto it.

The United States and Israel argue that issues such as Palestinian statehood should be decided by the two sides at the negotiating table rather than at the United Nations.

Diplomats have said it is not clear what the Palestinians will do when the UN General Assembly opens.

Rather than seeking full UN membership for a state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, they could seek status as a "non-member state," which would require a simple majority of the 193-nation assembly.

The United States, however, said it would not favor this model either.

"Our view remains that neither course, neither the Security Council nor the General Assembly, is going to lead to the result that they seek, which is to have a stable, secure state living in peace, that they have to do this through negotiations," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on Monday.

Another possibility would be to propose a resolution to the General Assembly that might give greater backing to their desire for a state but not actually call for upgrading the Palestinians status at the United Nations.
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