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Sydney Morning Herald

US Pressures Britain on Palestine Vote

Jon Swaine, New York and Adrian Blomfield, Jerusalem

A Palestinian holds a mock poster with the image of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and U.S. President Barack Obama during a demonstration demanding the recognition of a Palestinian state, in the Qalandia checkpoint between the West Bank city of Ramallah and Jerusalem, Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

Britain is coming under growing US pressure to oppose a Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations on Friday.

With a major confrontation looming as the UN General Assembly convenes in New York, Britain has found itself torn between its natural allegiance to the United States and the inclination of some of its European allies to recognise Palestinian advances towards a viable state.

Although the US has threatened to wield its Security Council veto to prevent the Palestinians gaining full UN membership, Britain has yet to make an explicit declaration of its voting intentions.

Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, is expected to seek Security Council endorsement of a bid for full Palestinian statehood within the UN after he addresses the General Assembly.

An attempt by Catherine Ashton, the European Union's foreign policy chief, to forge a common European response to the Palestinian application has collapsed, Israeli officials said, leaving individual European states to decide their own positions.

Germany and several of its allies have already signalled they will side with Israel in opposing the Palestinians. But France, like Britain a permanent member of the Security Council, is reportedly considering supporting the Palestinians in the belief that international recognition of their aspirations could prompt them to renew negotiations with Israel.

Jack Straw, the former foreign secretary, has urged British support for the Palestinian bid. So far Prime Minister David Cameron, who will also address the General Assembly this week, has held his counsel.

Several members of US Congress, which is unwavering in its support of Israel, warned Mr Cameron that his apparent willingness to make concessions to the Palestinians would not be looked on kindly in Washington.

''I strongly urge Britain to stand with the US and respect the emerging peace process,'' said Doug Lamborn, a Republican from Colorado. ''Recognition may unravel the bilateral negotiations.''

The US and Israel have been pressing members of the 15-state Security Council to deny the Palestinians the nine votes they need for membership. That would mean the US wouldn't have to veto the measure.

''The US clearly doesn't want to cast this veto and would be upset if it had to do so,'' said Jonathan Spyer, a political scientist at the Interdisciplinary Centre in Herzliya, outside Tel Aviv.

The diplomatic quartet on the Middle East is seeking a deal that will allow the Palestinians to secure greater UN recognition while meeting US and Israeli objections, special envoy Tony Blair says.

''What we will be looking for over the next few days is a way of putting together something that allows [Palestinians'] claims and legitimate aspirations for statehood to be recognised, whilst actually renewing the only thing that's going to produce a state - which is a negotiation directly between the two sides,'' Mr Blair told the US's ABC television.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who is also on his way to the UN to take part in the debate, told The New York Times before leaving Ankara that Israel was responsible for its own increasing isolation on the international stage.

"It was Israel and the government's decision to isolate themselves. And they will be isolated even more if they continue this policy of rejecting any proposal,'' he said.

Mr Davutoglu predicted a partnership between Turkey and Egypt, two of the region's most populous and influential countries, which could create a new axis of power at a time when US influence in the Middle East seems to be diminishing.

"This will not be an axis against any other country - not Israel, not Iran, not any other country - but this will be an axis of democracy, real democracy," he added.

Palestinian leaders say they have no alternative but to seek a fresh approach to the peace process in the virtual absence of negotiations in the past three years. The Palestinian Authority has refused to return to talks as long as Israel continues to build Jewish settlements on occupied territory.

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