Abbas in Egypt to discuss UN bid

CAIRO (AFP) — President Mahmoud Abbas was in Egypt on Monday to consult with Arab officials days before he submits a formal request to the United Nations to accept Palestine as its 194th member state.

Abbas was also to meet EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in Cairo, where later Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan — a fervent supporter of the Palestinian cause — was to begin an “Arab Spring” tour.

The diplomatic flurry in Egypt comes as Israel appears increasingly regionally isolated as ties with one-time ally Turkey sink to a new low and relations with Cairo are strained after protesters attacked Israel’s embassy.

Later on Monday Abbas will attend the Arab League Follow-Up Committee devoted to the Palestinian-Israeli crisis and brief its members on preparations to request UN membership for Palestine.

“There is close coordination with the Arab countries” on how to win maximum support for the membership bid, senior Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath told Egyptian state television.

Abbas is expected to submit a formal request for the United Nations to accept Palestine as its 194th member when the General Assembly starts on September 20.

The Palestinian envoy to the world body has said that Monday’s Arab League meeting will decide whether the Palestinians go to the UN Security Council or General Assembly to seek membership.

“Arab foreign ministers, with the participation of President Abbas and the Palestinian delegation, might announce… whether it is first the Security Council, or whether it is the General Assembly,” Riyad Mansour said on Friday.

Washington said it would veto any bid to the Security Council, arguing that a Palestinian state should be created only through negotiations.

If that happens the Palestinians say they will turn to the General Assembly, where they expect to easily win votes to upgrade their representation from current observer status to non-member state.

Abbas told a Jordanian newspaper the Palestinians will bid for UN membership “despite the obstacles and dangers, including US threats to halt 470 million dollars in annual assistance.”

Shaath told Egyptian television the Palestinians expect to garner “more than 160 votes” at the General Assembly and “will continue to knock on the door until we get [full] membership.”

Under UN rules, any bid for full membership requires a recommendation from the Security Council and then a two-thirds majority in the 193-member General Assembly.

Non-member status would require only a straight majority in the General Assembly where no veto is possible.

Abbas, who already received hefty support Friday from UN chief Ban Ki-moon who said Palestinian statehood was “long overdue,” received Russia’s backing on Monday.

“We will, of course, be voting for any of the Palestinians’ proposals,” Russia’s UN envoy Vitaly Churkin was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

“But I must say that we are not pushing them into it. We are saying that ‘Whatever you decide to do, we will support you’,” Churkin said.

With Israel and the United States staunchly resisting the Palestinian plan, European remains divided.

“What we’re very clear about from the European Union is that the way forward is negotiations,” EU foreign policy chief told reporters after meeting Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr.

Ashton, who will also meet Abbas and Arab League officials before heading to Israel, said the EU wants to see “the people of Palestine and the people of Israel living side by side in peace and security.”

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, meanwhile, urged Abbas to tread carefully in his UN bid, warning that such a strategy could ultimately harm peace efforts, a statement from his office said.

Erdogan, a strong supporter of the Palestinian cause, arrives late in Cairo late on Monday and on Tuesday will address an Arab League ministerial meeting and meet top Egyptian officials.

Erdogan will also visit Tunisia and Libya, where popular uprisings such as that in Egypt have toppled long-standing autocratic regimes, as he bids to forge stronger ties with Arab nations as Ankara’s relations with Israel sour.

Turkey has expelled the Israeli ambassador over the storming by Israeli naval commandos last year of a convoy of ships trying to reach Gaza in defiance of the blockade, killing nine Turks.

Egypt’s relations with Israel chilled further after protesters ransacked Israel’s embassy in Cairo overnight Friday, forcing the ambassador to flee in the worst incident since the two countries signed a 1979 peace treaty.

Ties have been strained since the killing of six Egyptian policemen on their common border last month as Israel hunted militants after a deadly attack.

( / 12.09.2011)

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