PARIS (AP) — France announced Tuesday that it plans to vote in favor of recognizing a Palestinian state at the U.N. General Assembly this week.
With the announcement, France becomes the first major European country to come out in favor, dealing a setback to Israel. The timing of the announcement appears aimed at swaying other European nations.
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told parliament that France has long supported Palestinian ambitions for statehood and "will respond 'Yes'" when the issue comes up for a vote "out of a concern for coherency."
The Palestinians say the assembly is likely to vote Thursday on a resolution raising their status at the U.N. from an observer to a nonmember observer state, a move they believe is an important step toward a two-state solution with Israel. A Palestinian state would still not be a full General Assembly member, however.
Unlike the Security Council, there are no vetoes in the General Assembly and the resolution is virtually certain of approval. But such a vote by France — a permanent council member — could weigh on decisions in other European capitals.
Europe is divided over the issue. Switzerland will likely vote "yes" and Germany is expected to vote "no." Britain's position remains unclear.
Palestinians say they are doing this out of frustration over the four-year deadlock in peace efforts. They believe an endorsement of their state will bolster their negotiating position.
Israel strongly opposes the bid, accusing the Palestinians of trying to bypass negotiations. The resolution would endorse a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, the territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war. Israel opposes a pullback to the 1967 lines.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said France's decision wouldn't change the U.S. assessment of the Palestinian action as a "mistake."
"With regard to France and any other countries, we obviously disagree with our oldest ally on this issue," she told reporters. "They know that we disagree with them. But it's their sovereign decision."
As French lawmakers applauded Tuesday— many of them members or allies of the Socialist-led government — Fabius cautioned against raising Palestinian hopes too high.
"But, but, but, but, but — but at the same time, madame and monsieur lawmakers, we must show in this case a lot of lucidity," he said.
"On the one hand, because the text is currently being discussed, and I myself had (Palestinian) President Mahmoud Abbas on the phone yesterday morning," he said. "On the other hand, because — let's not hide from this — that this question will be asked at a very delicate moment."
He went on to note the "fragile cease-fire" after the recent deadly fighting between Hamas and Israel, the Israeli election in January, and the upcoming "change in composition of the American administration" — with the United States seen by many as perhaps the most pivotal player in the region.
"In any case, it's only through negotiations — that we ask for without conditions and immediately between the two sides — that we will be able to reach the realization of a Palestinian state," Fabius said.
Associated Press writer Bradley Klapper contributed from Washington, D.C.