- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 21, 2011

French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Wednesday proposed a one-year timetable for establishing a Palestinian state as the U.S. struggled to head off a confrontation in the United Nations Security Council over the Palestinian bid for U.N. membership.

Speaking barely an hour after President Obama orated vigorously against the Palestinian initiative, Mr. Sarkozy floated the idea of upgrading the Palestinians’ U.N. status from “nonmember observer entity” to “nonmember observer state” - a designation akin to the Vatican’s - and resuming negotiations toward a final agreement with the Israelis.

“Let us cease our endless debates on the parameters and let us begin negotiations and adopt a precise and ambitious timetable,” Mr. Sarkozy said. “Let’s have one month to resume discussions, six months to find agreement on borders and security, one year to reach a definitive agreement.”

The Palestinians walked out of short-lived U.S.-sponsored negotiations last September after Israel let a 10-month moratorium on Jewish settlements in the West Bank lapse.

They have said they will return to the table if Israel renews the settlement freeze and agrees to Mr. Obama’s call for the borders of the two states to be based on Israel’s pre-1967 frontiers.

Israel, in turn, has sought Palestinian acknowledgment of its character as a Jewish state.

Reports emerged Wednesday that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas might delay submitting his U.N. membership application, which he was expected to do Friday.

However, the Palestinians’ top U.S. representative, Maen Rashid Areikat, told The Washington Times that those reports were “totally false.”

Mr. Sarkozy’s call appeared aimed at avoiding a showdown in the Security Council, where the U.S. has promised to veto any Palestinian resolution, though doubts remained Wednesday about whether the Palestinians even had a nine-vote majority locked down.

Mr. Sarkozy said that “each of us knows that Palestine cannot immediately obtain full and complete recognition of the status of United Nations member state,” but he expressed concerns that a Security Council veto “risks engendering a cycle of violence in the Middle East.”

The Palestinians could gain Mr. Sarkozy’s proposed “enhanced observer” status from the General Assembly, where they enjoy an automatic majority.

Israel fears that the status, which would allow Palestinian membership in several U.N. panels, would result in anti-Israel “lawfare” at the International Criminal Court.

Mr. Sarkozy, who is half-Jewish, has long been an outspoken advocate of Israel and enjoyed warm relations with the center-left government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s predecessor. But he has been cool toward the current right-wing government, whose sincerity about peace he reportedly doubts.