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France indicates support for Palestinian UN vote

Nov. 22, 2012 8:17 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 26, 2012 2:59 P.M.)
By: John Irish
PARIS (Reuters) -- France on Thursday indicated it would support Palestinian efforts to secure a diplomatic upgrade at the United Nations, a decision likely to boost the PLO as it seeks greater international recognition.

Frustrated that a bid for full UN membership last year failed amid US opposition in the UN Security Council, the PLO has launched a watered-down bid for recognition as a non-member state, similar to the Vatican's UN status.

Without specifically saying which way France would vote at the UN General Assembly, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius hinted that Paris would support the bid.

"I can indicate which direction we may take and one that has been taken by previous French political parties (and) under previous governments," Fabius told members of the French Senate.

"As far as this current government goes, I would like to remind you of the campaign pledge number 59 of the (presidential) candidate, now President Francois Hollande, which said that there would be an international recognition of a Palestinian state."

The proposal, which is due to be put to the vote in the General Assembly later this month, would implicitly recognize Palestinian statehood and could also grant access to bodies such as the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where Palestine could file complaints against Israel.

President Mahmoud Abbas' bid seems certain to win approval in any vote in the 193-nation assembly, which is composed mostly of post-colonial states historically sympathetic to the Palestinians.

However, Abbas is seeking approval from European powers to strengthen his case.

A French government source said Fabius's comment, while short of explicit, was intended to reflect the fact that France was leaning toward voting in support of the status being sought by the Palestinians.

The United States says Palestinian statehood must be achieved by negotiation with Israel and has called on Abbas to return to peace talks that collapsed in 2010 over Israel's illegal settlement construction in the occupied West Bank.

Washington can block full recognition of Palestine as a UN member at the Security Council, where it has a veto, but it has no hold over the General Assembly.

Until now Fabius had refused to tip his hand on the matter, citing the negative implications it could have on peace negotiations.

During a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Oct. 31, French President Francois Hollande said he regretted "the temptation of the Palestinian Authority to go to the General Assembly to get what it couldn't through negotiations."

Fabius was speaking after meeting Abbas last weekend amid attempts to secure a ceasefire between Israel and Gaza. Despite the violence, Abbas has said he would push ahead with plans for a vote at the United Nations.

Abbas's proposal comes at a time when peace negotiations with Israel have hit a wall over Israel's refusal to halt settlement building in occupied Palestinian territory.

"France is a friend of Israel and the Palestinian people and is defending peace which means the security of Israel and the right of the Palestinians to have a viable democratic and peaceful state," Fabius said.

Under former President Nicolas Sarkozy, France had promised to support Abbas if he opted for the upgrade option. Sarkozy's government broke from its closest allies last year voting in favor of giving the Palestinians full membership of the UN's cultural agency UNESCO.
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