UNITED NATIONS – The Palestinians brushed aside heated Israeli objections and a promised U.S. veto Monday, vowing to submit a letter formally requesting full U.N. membership after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the General Assembly at week's end.
In the midst of frenzied global diplomacy, Abbas said he had not been swayed by what he called "tremendous pressure" to drop the bid for United Nations recognition and instead to resume peace talks with Israel.
The Palestinian observer to the U.N., Riyad Mansour, said Abbas told U.N. Secretary-General that he would submit the application for Palestine on Friday, reaffirming earlier pledges to move ahead with the effort despite what the Palestinian leader described earlier Monday as "tremendous pressure" to back away from the move and return to the negotiating table.
The push at the world body is the first step to statehood for Palestinians who have for decades complained of being guests in their own land. Although any submission by the Palestinians wait weeks or months for the U.N. action, it has sparked a flurry of diplomatic activity with Mideast mediators scrambling to find a way to draw the two sides back to a negotiating table.
Each side in on-again-off-again Israeli-Palestinian talks have accused the other of being untrustworthy and intransigent participants in the peace process.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon would receive the letter from Abbas and must first approve it before it moves forward in the arduous and complicated process for a new member. Ban "reiterated his support for the two-state solution and stressed his desire to ensure that the international community and the two parties can find a way forward for resuming negotiations within a legitimate and balanced framework," U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said after the secretary-general met with Abbas.
The comment underscored the desires of the Quartet of Mideast mediators -- the U.S., the U.N., the European Union and Russia -- that Palestinian statehood should not be granted before a resumption of peace talks. The long-stalled negotiations have been unable to solve key issues Israeli settlement building in the West Bank and the status of east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as their capital.
Despite Palestinian plans, a White House official said the situation remained fluid, noting that Abbas had still not formally filed a letter seeking membership. The official said the U.S. was moving forward with talks with Quartet members and other partners. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the matter.
Any candidate for U.N. membership must submit a letter to the secretary-general stating it is a "peace-loving" state and accepts the U.N. Charter. Ban is expected to examine the Palestinian letter and then send it to the 15-member U.N. Security Council which must give its approval before a vote in the larger General Assembly.
The U.S. has already said it would use its veto in the Security Council, thereby blocking that course for the Palestinians before they even submit the request.
Alternatively, the Palestinians could seek the approval of the majority of the General Assembly's 193 member states for observer status -- a designation that would give leave them with a symbolic victory despite years of failed negotiations and waning hopes for statehood.
In either scenario, what the Palestinians will have show they have the power to force action on the issue at a time when Israel is feeling increasingly isolated in the region.
Its relations with regional allies Turkey, Egypt and Jordan have soured, while resentment against the Jewish state is on the upswing in the midst of a wave of revolts and uprisings in the Arab world. Those revolutions have led to the ouster of the former leaders of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
Israel's embassy in Cairo was stormed by protesters last week -- an incident that severely strained relations between the two neighbors who signed a peace treaty more than three decades ago.
Reflecting the extreme volatility of Mideast politics and the heat being generated by the Palestinian bid for statehood, a senior U.S. official said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with her Turkish counterpart and "encouraged" him to repair ties with Israel. She sought a positive role by Ankara in resolving the Palestinian issue that was "looming large" over the General Assembly that opens on Wednesday.
A second senior U.S. official added that Washington was particularly concerned about frayed Turkey-Israel ties because the Palestinian confrontation has raised the stakes for further confrontation.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because Clinton's meetings were private.
For Washington, the Palestinians' push also reflected a potential challenge to perceptions of the U.S. in the Mideast. The uprisings in the region have stoked increasing discomfort with the U.S. by the Arab masses, despite Washington's support for the uprisings in Egypt and Libya and its condemnation of the brutal crackdowns in Syria and Yemen.
If the U.S. follows through on pledges to veto the Palestinian bid, Washington was in danger of further alienating the Arab world by backing Israel at the expense of impoverished and stateless Palestinians. The perenial complaint might resonate even louder as Arabs feel increasingly empowered after successfully challenging entrenched regimes.
The U.S. and other Quartet members were slated to meet again later Monday, officials said, and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton might present more ideas to Abbas later in the day. The Quartet members were trying to find some framework that both sides could accept for a resumption of negotiations.
Past efforts have fallen apart amid acrimony and name-calling.
The Palestinians argue that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's vision of peace is starkly different than theirs, and that a two-state option which he would support fails to reflect key demands for halting Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank and recognition of east Jerusalem as the capital of the new state. Netanyahu, for his part, has said the Palestinians are the ones who are unwilling to seriously enter negotiations.
The Palestinians want their state to include the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem -- lands captured by Israel during the 1967 Mideast war. Abbas insists that Israel agree to return to the borders that existed before that war.