- Associated Press - Sunday, September 18, 2011

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States and Europe are racing to avert or delay a looming showdown over Palestinian statehood at the United Nations that may crush already dim Mideast peace prospects.

Senior U.S. and European officials, at meetings Sunday afternoon in New York, hoped to find a way of bringing Israel and the Palestinians back to stalled negotiations without antagonizing either side or embroiling the region in new turmoil.

But each is locked in intractable positions over the expected Palestinian bid this week for U.N. recognition and chances for a breakthrough seem slim. As a result, officials say the effort may be more about damage control than diplomacy.

The Palestinians are frustrated by their inability to win from Israel concessions such as a freeze on settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. They want to seize the moment to try to gain greater standing and attention with a high-stakes wager on statehood and U.N. membership. The U.S. and Israel vehemently oppose this move.

Only 12 months ago, President Obama said he wanted the U.N. to be welcoming Palestine as its newest member this year. But talks broke down long ago, and the U.S. is in the unenviable position of leading the opposition to something it actually supports.

The U.S. has promised a veto of the Palestinian bid at the Security Council, leading to fears the action could spark violence in the region.

The American side was working to secure additional opposition to recognition, officials said. Without nine affirmative votes in the 15-member council, the Palestinian resolution would fail, and Washington is hoping it won’t have to act alone.

U.S. officials believe that six other members may vote against or abstain, meaning the Palestinians would fall short. That tally could not be immediately confirmed.

Heading off or watering down the Palestinian resolution had been the goal of international diplomats. They hoped to parlay that success into a meeting between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders at which the two sides would relaunch negotiations.

Yet the Palestinians have refused to back down and give up the little leverage they hope to win.

“The aim of this is try to elevate the Palestinians to a more equal footing so that this disparity that existed over the last 18 years, which allowed Israel to exploit it to its advantage, can end and they can talk now to an equal member state of the United Nations,” said Maen Rashid Areikat, the Palestinian’s top representative to the U.S.

Mr. Areikat told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday that the Palestinians could accept an alternative, but it must include “clear terms of reference to return to the negotiations, clear time frame and an endgame.”

Still, even with a loss in the Security Council, the Palestinians were expected to take their case for recognition to the General Assembly, where they enjoy widespread support and the U.S. cannot block it.

A nod from the General Assembly could give the Palestinians access to international judicial bodies such as the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court.

The Israelis fear such courts would target them unfairly, which is something that Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, said had been outlined by the Palestinians themselves.

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