PARIS – Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas warned Friday that he may seek to upgrade the Palestinian status at the United Nations to a non-member observer state if peace talks with Israel do not resume.
At a Paris news conference with French President Francois Hollande, Abbas made good on months of speculation that the Palestinians might seek to circumvent pledges by the United States, Israel's stalwart ally, to block any Palestinian bid for full U.N. membership in the Security Council.
"We went to the Security Council. We did not obtain the vote necessary," Abbas said. "If we don't return to the (peace) negotiations, we'll of course go to the General Assembly to obtain the status of non-member state, as is the case for the Vatican or Switzerland."
There are no vetoes in the General Assembly and adoption of a resolution could upgrade the Palestinians' current status as a permanent observer to a non-member observer state.
While this would not give the Palestinians voting rights in the world body, it would give them international recognition as a "state" and the possibility of joining U.N. agencies and becoming parties to treaties including the International Court of Justice or the International Criminal Court.
Abbas did not specify when the Palestinians might take their bid to the General Assembly and he indicated it will not be easy.
"Of course, we are going to encounter many obstacles," he said.
Last fall, the Palestinians made a bid for full U.N. membership, but it remains stalled. For Palestine to become a U.N. member state, it needs a recommendation from the U.N. Security Council, which means a minimum of nine "yes" votes and no veto by a permanent member.
The U.S. insists on a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before Palestine joins the U.N. The U.S. says it would veto a resolution recommending membership now — leaving the Palestinians the option of going to the 193-member General Assembly, where there are no vetoes.
The Palestinians have said they will not resume talks until Israel halts settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, occupied territories that the Palestinians claim for a future state. They also want assurances that the borders of a future Palestine should be based on Israel's lines before the 1967 Mideast war, when it captured the territories.
"As for the negotiations, I just want to say that the ball is in Mr. Netanyahu's court," said Abbas, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "If Mr. Netanyahu agrees to end the colonization and recognize the borders, we will be inclined to take steps in this direction."
Meanwhile, the European Union urged Israel on Friday to shelve plans to build 850 new apartments in the West Bank, saying such projects are hurting the peace process. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she deplored the government's decision to go ahead with the new construction, adding that such settlements "threaten to make the two-state solution impossible."
Israel said Wednesday it would build the units in West Bank settlements. The announcement came after parliament rejected an attempt by hardline lawmakers to prevent the demolition of an outpost that the Supreme Court said was built illegally on privately held Palestinian land.
Palestinians have refused to resume negotiations while Israel builds on land they claim for a future state. Israel says settlements and other core issues should be resolved through talks.
Edith M. Lederer contributed from the United Nations.