Palestinians agree to attend Mideast conference
RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — The Palestinians on Saturday accepted a French invitation to attend a conference in Paris aimed at reviving peace talks with Israel, as their strategy to bypass negotiations and seek U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state appeared to be unraveling.
Nabil Abu Rdeneh, an adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said the Palestinians were prepared to go to Paris and were waiting for Israeli and American responses.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe extended the invitation earlier this week in a visit to the region, saying the conference could take place later this month. Israel has not replied to Juppe's invitation and had no comment Saturday on the Palestinian acceptance, which came with no conditions attached.
The Palestinians have refused to return to the bargaining table for months because Israel has rejected their demand to halt all settlement construction on lands they claim for a future state.
Palestinian officials said they had no high hopes for a French-led conference but would attend in an effort to restart talks that broke down in late 2008 and revived only briefly this past September before collapsing over settlement construction.
Historically, the U.S., not Europe, has taken the lead in trying to wrest an agreement from Israel and the Palestinians.
Two weeks ago, President Barack Obama tried to entice the Palestinians to resume talks by asserting in a high-profile policy speech that Israel's boundaries before the 1967 Mideast war should be a starting point for the talks, with mutually agreed land swaps.
The Palestinians had long sought an explicit statement to this effect from Washington. But they were disappointed by the peace blueprint Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outlined later in a speech before the U.S. Congress, dismissing it as a non-starter because it disregards many of their key demands.
Instead, they had hoped to count on growing international support for bypassing Israel in their quest for statehood. But a top U.N. official undercut that strategy last week when he said there was no way a Palestinian state could become a member of the U.N. without a recommendation from the Security Council. That is unlikely because Obama has hinted strongly that the U.S. would exercise its veto power on the council to block such a move.
On Saturday, a senior Palestinian official said Abbas has concluded that a statehood push at the U.N. would not advance the Palestinians' cause.
Abbas' initiative, he said, will be compromised by the fact that the Palestinians first have to seek support from the Security Council before going to the General Assembly, where the Palestinians are more confident of obtaining majority support.
The Palestinian leadership has concluded that the most they could wrest from the U.N. General Assembly would be a non-binding affirmation of previous resolutions stating that the Palestinians have the right to a state, he added.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the Palestine Liberation Organization, which Abbas heads, intends to go ahead with its plan to approach the U.N., in order to save face among the Palestinian people, he said.
Another senior Palestinian official, Saeb Erekat, issued a statement on Saturday calling on the international community "to support the admission of Palestine as a member state in the United Nations."