Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian National Authority, and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon pose for photos at UN headquarters in New York City on Wednesday. Photo: AFP
Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas went to the United Nations yesterday assured of huge support for UN recognition of a state for his people in the face of strong US and Israeli opposition.
But Abbas was warned by UN leader Ban Ki-moon that the Middle East peace process is on "life support" and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said even the UN General Assembly vote would not create a new Palestinian state.
Abbas will make the case for Palestine to become a "non-member UN observer state" and set out possible conditions for talks with Israel in a key speech to the 193-member assembly.
The Palestinian president sat and listened to Ban's warning at a special UN committee meeting on the decades-old conflict ahead of his speech.
The UN secretary general said only "direct negotiations" between the Palestinians and Israelis could lead to a permanent settlement.
And he urged Israeli and Palestinian leaders "to breathe new life into the peace process which is now on life support" because of the deadlock in the peace process between the rivals.
Talks between the two have been suspended since September, 2010 with the Palestinians blaming Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.
"What is needed now is political will and courage. Leaders must show a historic sense of responsibility and vision. Israelis and Palestinians must break out of the zero-sum mentality," Ban said.
The landmark General Assembly meeting will be held on the 65th anniversary of a UN resolution on the division of the Palestinian territories into a two-state solution that Ban said "remains tragically unfulfilled".
The Palestinians are assured of the simple majority required for the resolution, despite an aggressive campaign against the measure by the United States and Israel.
Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Malki said the Palestinian leadership was "proud of the just support for the cause of Palestine emanating from all corners of the globe."
"We appeal to you to stand firm for peace, for the rule of law and for right over might," Malki told ministers and ambassadors at the UN committee.
"Despite diminishing hopes and the decline of the situation on the ground due to Israeli violations we remain committed to the two state solution and our hand remains extended in peace," he added.
The Palestinians say 132 countries recognize their state bilaterally, but the number of countries that will back them in the vote remains uncertain.
Europe is divided, with a majority of the 27-nation European Union, including France, expected to back the Palestinians.
But Germany said it would abstain and Britain was expected to follow because of doubts over the timing of the vote.
The recent Israeli military onslaught against rocket attacks from Gaza could increase support for the Palestinians, diplomats said.
But several European countries, including some backing the bid, believe the Palestinians should have waited until after US President Barack Obama installed his new administration and Israel held elections, diplomats said.
The United States, a staunch ally of Israel, has warned that the vote will do nothing to improve the prospects for new peace talks aimed at ending the decades-long conflict.
"We have made very clear to the Palestinian leadership that we oppose Palestinian efforts to upgrade their status at the UN outside of the framework" of talks with Israel, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday.
Israeli leader Netanyahu said Thursday that the UN decision "won't change anything on the ground."
"It won't promote the creation of a Palestinian state, it will distance it," he added.
Success will give the Palestinians access to UN agencies and treaties and potentially allow them to apply to join the International Criminal Court -- a prospect that worries Israel.
Palestinian envoys have said Abbas will not rush to join the court but could use it if Israel does not change its policies on settlements and other matters.
The United States blocked a Palestinian application for full membership of the United Nations that Abbas made in September 2011.
The Palestinian Authority and UN agencies that admit the Palestinians could lose hundreds of millions of dollars in financing because of the vote. US law prohibits funding for any international body recognizing a Palestinian state.
Washington has warned Abbas he risks losing around $200 million in aid, which is blocked in the US Congress.