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Palestinians won't press for urgent vote

  |   Sept. 22, 2011 at 1:38 PM
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UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 22 (UPI) -- A Palestinian delegation will not press for an urgent U.N. membership vote, an official said as Washington worked to erode support for the membership bid.

"We will give some time to the Security Council to consider first our full membership request before heading to the General Assembly," said Nabil Shaath, a senior Palestinian official who leads the foreign affairs department of Fatah, the Palestinian National Authority's main political party.

"If we fail, we will keep knocking on the door," he told reporters. "We do not have a time limit."

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to submit his request for recognition to the Security Council Friday after he speaks before the annual General Assembly. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to accept the request, and then pass it on to Lebanon, which presides over the 15-member Security Council this month.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, an Abbas spokesman in the West Bank, said the president remains willing to negotiate with Israel.

"Abbas insisted that the Palestinian bid to the U.N. does not oppose serious negotiations with Israel," Abed Rabbo told reporters in Bethlehem.

Lebanon supports the Palestinian bid. Nine Security Council votes are needed for membership.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington and Jerusalem were engaged in "extremely intense" diplomacy to persuade council members not to support the Palestinian statehood bid.

Washington has threatened to veto the measure if necessary.

U.S. President Barack Obama implored the United Nations Wednesday to hold off the Palestinian push.

"I am convinced that there is no shortcut to the end of a conflict that has endured for decades," he said. "Peace is hard work. Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the United Nations.

"Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians who must live side by side. Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians -- not us -- who must reach agreement on the issues that divide them," Obama said.

If the Palestinians fail to gain recognition through the Security Council, they said they would take their case to the General Assembly. The broader body has the power to upgrade the Palestinian Authority to observer-state status, similar to that of the Vatican, but not confer U.N. membership.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, a key diplomatic player in the Middle East, said in his U.N. speech a General Assembly vote might be the best path forward. Security Council rejection of Palestinian membership could spark violence in the region, he said, and the General Assembly could confer the upgraded status as an "intermediate step."

He proposed a one-year timetable for new Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Talks should begin within a month with no preconditions, he said.

The timeline is something new that the United States never suggested.

Obama was asked by a reporter at a photo opportunity later if he supported Sarkozy's one-year timeline.

"I already answered a question from you before," Obama said.

Another reporter asked if he agreed with the French position. Obama smiled and replied, "Bonjour," The New York Times reported.

A third reporter asked if that response meant "no comment." Obama's response: "No comment."

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