RAMALLAH, West Bank -- The Palestinians are resigned to defeat in their quest for full membership at the United Nations, officials said Tuesday, and have started work on their backup plan – seeking an upgraded observer status that would give them access to key international organizations.
Officials said they are already lobbying foreign governments, especially in western Europe, in hopes of rallying support for this alternate strategy. The officials said this new campaign in the General Assembly, dominated by developing countries normally sympathetic to the Palestinians, could be harder than anticipated because of expected opposition by the U.S.
The Palestinian campaign, launched with a dramatic speech by President Mahmoud Abbas at U.N. headquarters in September, has fallen onto hard times in recent weeks. While the speech was warmly received, the Palestinians have struggled to muster the nine votes needed in the 15-member Security Council to approve their bid for membership as a state.
The U.S., as a permanent member of the council, pledged to veto the request. The Palestinians had hoped to muster the nine-vote majority needed to trigger the veto – a scenario that would embarrass the U.S. by putting it odds with the rest of the world.
A draft report circulating in the Security Council obtained by The Associated Press shows deep divisions over the Palestinian application for membership. The council's admissions committee is expected to endorse the report on Friday. It remains unclear when the council will actually vote on the issue.
On Wednesday, Britain, another permanent member of the council, announced it would abstain in a vote, following a similar statement by France the previous day.
Speaking to The Associated Press, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki conceded the Palestinians would not be able to gain enough support in the council.
"We knew that the Security Council would not be a picnic. But the most important thing here is who is going to win in the final round," he said. "There will be other rounds, and we will never despair."
The Palestinians turned to the United Nations after a three-year deadlock in peace talks. They asked the world body to endorse a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem – territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war.
While a U.N. vote would not change the situation on the ground, the Palestinians believe a strong international endorsement would boost their position in negotiations. Israel opposes a pullback to its 1967 lines.
The Palestinians have said that if they failed to win full U.N. membership, they would seek "nonmember state" observer status in the world body.
They hope that this enhanced status would qualify them for membership on key international bodies where they could push for action against Israel. Last month the Palestinians won membership in the U.N.'s cultural agency, UNESCO.
A Palestinian official said Wednesday that the Palestinians have begun lobbying key European countries, particularly France, for support.
In Paris, French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero confirmed his government is open to the Palestinian request, saying nonmember status "still seems the best path to us."
Israel, with backing from the U.S., has fiercely opposed the entire Palestinian strategy, saying it is trying to make unilateral gains while avoiding peace talks.
"The correct response from people who want to see peace move forward in the Middle East should be to tell the Palestinians that your U.N. strategy will not work and that it's time for you to return to negotiations," said Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev. "Israel is ready and we hope the Palestinians will rethink their positions."
The Palestinians say they will not return to the negotiating table unless Israel halts settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to stop the construction, which has settled 500,000 Israelis onto lands claimed by the Palestinians, calling for talks without preconditions.
The "Quartet" of international mediators – the U.S., EU, Russia and U.N. – is expected to send a delegation to the region next week in hopes of restarting talks .
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has enjoyed a jump in popularity by defying Israel and the U.S., is unlikely to bend without an Israeli concession on settlements.
Sarah DiLorenzo in Paris contributed to this report.