Abbas resolved to go to UN, ICJ for international recognition of Palestine

Arab peace initiative committee to take Palestinian statehood dossier to UN

UN General Assembly president says Palestinian membership depends U.S. veto

Netanyahu assured on U.S. Congress support for Israel’s position on Jerusalem

Egypt says Rafah crossing opening does not violate Camp David accords

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday dismissed Benjamin Netanyahu's outline of a peace deal as a non-starter and said he's now setting his sights on U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state in the fall — unless the Israeli prime minister softens his stance before then.

Despite strong U.S. objections, the Palestinians are counting on growing international support for bypassing Israel en route to statehood, saying Netanyahu's speech to the U.S. Congress on Tuesday showed he is not a partner for peace.

However, Palestinian leaders also want to avoid being blamed for the failure of U.S. mediation efforts, especially after President Barack Obama met a key Palestinian demand last week when he said border talks should be based on the pre-1967 war lines, with mutually agreed land swaps.

In an apparent attempt to show good faith, Palestinian officials said Wednesday they would ask the U.N. Security Council and the Quartet of Mideast mediators — the U.S., the U.N., Europe and Russia — to call for renewed negotiations based on Obama's border proposals with a September deadline for a deal.

But Netanyahu has rejected the 1967 lines as a starting point, and it's unlikely talks would get off the ground.

He told Congress that while he is willing to make "generous" land concessions, Israel must keep east Jerusalem and other key areas it captured in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians insist on a capital in east Jerusalem — home to key Muslim, Jewish and Christian holy sites.

Netanyahu also said Abbas must tear up his reconciliation deal with the Islamic militant Hamas before any negotiations can begin.

Abbas has said that he — not Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel — would determine Palestinian negotiating positions. Hamas wrested Gaza from Abbas in a violent 2007 takeover.

After his return to Israel on Wednesday, Netanyahu said he encountered strong support for his positions in the U.S. and called on the Palestinians "to recognize the justified demands of Israel."

Abbas, in turn, said Netanyahu's stance on territory closes the door to serious negotiations.

Netanyahu's speech was filled with "falsehoods and distortions," Abbas told leaders of the Palestine Liberation Organization and his Fatah movement. "He did not say anything we can build on positively."

Abbas will meet over the weekend with Arab League representatives in Qatar to discuss the next steps.

Obama has said a Palestinian state should arise from negotiations, not a U.N. vote. The U.S. will likely veto a request to the Security Council to accept the state of Palestine as a full member of the world body.

Abbas said Wednesday that negotiations remain his first choice, but that if that option is closed, "we are going to go to the option of (U.N. recognition in) September."

Currently, Palestine has U.N. observer status as an "entity," and Palestinian officials said they may go for the lesser option, of having Palestine recognized by the U.N. General Assembly as a non-member observer state if a U.S. veto derails the full membership bid.

The General Assembly vote requires support from at least two-thirds of the 192 U.N. member states. Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki said Wednesday he believes the Palestinians are assured of such a majority.

"I can tell you that the indications I am getting are positive," said Malki, who was attending a meeting of foreign ministers of non-aligned countries in Indonesia. "Many of the foreign ministers are mad about the speech of Netanyahu, and I can tell you we are making good use of this bad speech in our favor."

In Israel, reaction to Netanyahu's speech was mixed. In an opinion poll among 450 Israeli Jews, 10 percent said Netanyahu should have supported the president's remarks, 46.8 percent said he should have backed them with reservations, and 36.7 percent said he should have opposed them. The survey, published in the Maariv daily, had an error margin of 4.5 percentage points.

In other developments Wednesday, Egypt announced that it will open its only crossing with the Gaza Strip this weekend, significantly easing a four-year blockade on the Hamas-ruled territory but setting up a potential conflict with Israel.

Hamas officials said they had not been notified of the change, and declined comment.

The UN General Assembly president said Friday that a Palestinian state cannot join the world body without the support of the Security Council, where it would face a US veto.

"The way to become a member of the United Nations is clearly defined, we have to comply to it and among these conditions there is the veto or the non-veto," Joseph Deiss said during a press conference.

When asked if there is another way to obtain UN membership if there is a Security Council veto, Deiss replied: "No." Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday said the Palestinians would seek UN recognition -- to be accepted as a full member of the world body -- in September if peace talks do not resume.

"Our first choice is negotiations but if there is no progress before September, we will go to the United Nations," he said a day after a speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu broke no new political ground.

But US President Barack Obama said Wednesday in London that it would be a "mistake" for the Palestinians to go the UN route.

"The only way we are going to see a Palestinian state is if Israelis and Palestinians agree on a just peace," Obama said. "I strongly believe for the Palestinians to take the United Nations route rather than the path of sitting down and talking with the Israelis is a mistake."

In a key policy speech last week, Obama said the territorial lines in place before the 1967 Six Day War, combined with land swaps, should be the basis for talks on a peace deal with the Palestinians. The idea was rejected out of hand by Netanyahu but hailed by the Palestinians.

Deiss, the General Assembly president, said the Palestinians "are working on different levels," to achieve UN membership, including seeking bilateral recognition.

"They have already, as far as I know, 111 states who have assured they recognize Palestine as a state," he said.

The United Nations has 192 member states. The Palestinians currently have "permanent observer" status, which allows them offices and access to meetings.

UN rules posted on its website also state that the Security Council must consider any application for new membership.

A recommendation for admission must receive nine affirmative votes of the 15 Security Council members, it notes, provided that none of the five permanent members -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China -- vote no. It would then go to the General Assembly, where a two-thirds majority vote is required.

The United States historically has used its Security Council veto to protect ally Israel.

In February, the US vetoed an Arab resolution that would have condemned continued Israeli settlement building, even though the 14 other members of the Security Council voted in favor.

Leaders of Congress have quietly assured Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the House and Senate would oppose President Barack Obama's drive for the unilateral establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank.

Congressional sources said House and Senate leaders have relayed their support for Israel amid Obama's demand for the Jewish state to agree to a unilateral Palestinian state in the West Bank. They said Netanyahu, often referred to by his nickname "Bibi," was assured that Obama was limited in what he could do against Israel without congressional support.

"Bibi was told to be polite [to Obama] but not cave in," a senior congressional aide said [On May 22, Obama told the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee that he has made military cooperation with Israel a U.S. priority, Middle East Newsline reported. The president also said he approved the toughest sanctions on Iran.]

The sources said Obama's campaign against Israel was not shared by the House or Senate leadership or most of Congress.

They said most Americans were concerned over economic issues and would not be mobilized against the Jewish state.

The reassurances to Israel, which included pledges of continued U.S. military aid, were said to have been relayed by both Democrats and Republicans. The Democrats controls the Senate while the Republicans form a majority in the House.

On May 19, Obama called on Israel withdraw from the West Bank and most of Jerusalem and allow the establishment of a Palestinian state without a full peace agreement. The president's address, which devoted little attention to Iran or Syria, was strongly criticized by Republicans while Democrats remained silent.

"Obama has the next month to show he's tough with Israel," another congressional source said. "Then, the pressure will be on him to deliver on his promise to withdraw from Afghanistan as well as work on the economy."

Meanwhile, Egypt’s decision to open its border crossing with the Gaza Strip permanently from May 28 has been welcomed by Hamas, which controls the Palestinian enclave, while raising concern in Israel.

In addition to ending restrictions at the Rafah crossing, Egypt will waive visa requirements for most Palestinians entering from other departure points, except neighboring Libya, the state-run Middle East News Agency reported.

“These measures are the right decision in the right direction to facilitate the daily life of the population and ease its suffering,” Hamas, the Islamic movement that controls Gaza, said in an e-mailed statement.

The Egyptian move is a “problematic” first step, Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai told Israel Radio, though he said it doesn’t constitute a violation of the Camp David accords between the countries. Israel’s Foreign Ministry will withhold comment until it sees what the arrangements at the border with Gaza will be, spokesman Yigal Palmor said.

Israel maintains an embargo on the Gaza coast in what it says is an effort to prevent weapons smuggling. It has restricted the flow of goods and people in and out of Gaza through its own border crossings since Hamas gained full control of the area in 2007.

Egypt has also restricted the passage of Gazans through its own crossing since Hamas clashed with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement, breaking apart their unity government.

Opening Rafah will “again reconnect the Gaza Strip with the Arab world and the international community,” said Mohsen Abu Ramadan, a Gaza-based economist. “It would be helpful to businessmen to make deals with Arab and foreign businessmen and investors, and consequently this would lead to ending the Israeli siege imposed on Gaza.”

Egypt’s move to open the border is part of its efforts to back the Palestinian groups’ reconciliation, its state-run news agency said.

The new Egyptian leadership, which has taken a more favorable approach to Hamas since President Hosni Mubarak was forced out in February following anti-government protests, brokered an agreement between Fatah and Hamas in Cairo this month that paves the way for a new unity government.

Hamas is defined as a terrorist group by Israel, the U.S. and the European Union.

In easing the border restrictions, Egypt is restoring the rules that existed before the 2007 Gaza clashes, with only Palestinian men 18 to 40 requiring visas, MENA said. As a result of the turmoil in Libya, all Palestinians entering from there will also need visas, the agency said.

Tunnels dug underneath the Egypt-Gaza border have become a central means of smuggling goods and people back and forth to evade restrictions at the Rafah crossing. Israel says the tunnels are also used to bring in weapons and the rockets fired into the country’s south.

Humanitarian and pro-Palestinian groups have repeatedly tried to break the sea blockade by sailing ships toward Gaza, and nine Turkish activists from one such flotilla were killed in a clash with the Israel navy a year ago. Another Gaza-bound aid flotilla is scheduled to leave Turkey next month.

Israel eased restrictions on essential goods and fuel brought into Gaza via its Kerem Shalom crossing over the past year, in part as a reaction to international pressure spurred by the flotilla clash.

Gisha, an Israeli group that advocates Palestinian rights of movement, said that Israel should respond to the opening of the Rafah crossing by also permitting the “passage of people and goods between Gaza and the West Bank.”