Palestinian statehood bid big on UN agenda

The Obama administration is making a final effort to avert a diplomatic crisis over a Palestinian drive to win UN recognition as an independent state.
Joseph Deiss, right, outgoing president of the UN General Assembly, hands the gavel to incoming president of the 66th General Assembly Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, second from left, as Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, left, watches during the closing plenary meeting of the 65th General Assembly Session in New York on Monday. The 66th session starts Tuesday. (David Karp/Associated Press)

The Obama administration is making a final effort to avert a diplomatic crisis over a Palestinian drive to win UN recognition as an independent state. 

The administration's top two Mideast envoys were leaving Tuesday for Israel and the Palestinian territories to try to persuade the Palestinians to drop their UN plans and bring both sides back to long-stalled talks. At the same time, Deputy Secretary of State William Burns was visiting Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates this week in part to seek Arab support for a still-undefined plan that could defuse the situation.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she was sending David Hale, the special envoy for Middle East peace, and Dennis Ross, the top Mideast adviser at the National Security Council, to try "to create a sustainable platform for negotiations that can produce the two-state outcome that we seek."

"Our hope is we get the parties back into a frame of mind and into a process where they actually begin negotiating again," Clinton told reporters at the State Department. 

UN's global conversation

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon held his first live "global conversation" with the public through social media including Twitter and Facebook ahead of the opening of the 66th session of the General Assembly.

Ban answered questions on a range of pressing United Nations issues during his hour-long social media availability.

The United Nations said more than 5,500 questions in the six official UN languages — as well as Portuguese and Swahili — were submitted by people around the world. Ban answered select questions posed by moderator Juju Chang of ABC News in the United States. The event was streamed live.

After the session opened Tuesday, presided over by incoming president Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser of Qatar, the assembly will go to committee Wednesday and hold a plenary meeting Friday.

Hale and Ross was to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday and Thursday before returning to the U.S. ahead of the annual UN General Assembly session that begins Sept. 20 in New York.

The two were in the region just last week but failed to persuade Palestinian officials to abandon their quest for UN recognition. Palestinian officials say they will bring their resolution to the UN sometime during the General Assembly and use their desired recognition to gain leverage with Israel.

Israel is vehemently opposed to such a move and the United States has said it will veto it in the UN Security Council.

However, the Palestinians have suggested that instead of going to the Security Council, they may seek a vote on recognition in the General Assembly, where the U.S. cannot veto it and it is likely to pass.

Israel and the United States insist that the United Nations is not the forum to create a state and that a future Palestine must come as the result of direct negotiations.  

"We need an environment that is conducive to direct negotiations," Clinton said of the goal of the Hale-Ross mission. "We all know that no matter what happens or doesn't happen at the UN, the next day is not going to result in the kind of changes that the United States wishes to see that would move us toward a two-state solution that we strongly support. The only way of getting a lasting solution is through direct negotiations between the parties and the route to that lies in Jerusalem and Ramallah, not in New York."

The Palestinian bid for recognition comes at a particularly delicate time in the Middle East, especially as it relates to Israel and its neighbors. Once-strong ties between Israel and Turkey have frayed in recent weeks over Israel's refusal to apologize for its deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla last year that killed nine Turks. And, the Jewish state's ties with Egypt have been tested by the weekend attack on the Israeli Embassy in Cairo.

General Assembly agenda

High on the agenda for the UN General Assembly is the issue whether to support the Palestinian bid to become a UN member, after years of advocating a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well as resolutions regarding the volatile situations in Libya and Afghanistan.

The General Assembly, established in 1945, is the chief deliberative, policy-making and representative organ of the United Nations, and comprises all 193 UN members. The assembly, which meets every September to December, provides a forum for discussing international issues covered under the UN charter, and plays a significant role in the process of setting standards and codification of international law.

Al-Nasser on Monday replaced Joseph Deiss of Switzerland following the 65th General Assembly. 

With files from CBC News