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Palestinians set to submit UN membership letter

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The Palestinians brushed aside heated Israeli objections and a promised U.S. veto Monday, vowing to submit a letter formally requesting full U.N. membership when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the General Assembly.

As the Palestinians edged closer to seeking statehood recognition from the United Nations, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for Abbas to meet with him in New York. The Israel leader said he wanted to resume peace talks, upping the pressure on Abbas and building on the frenzied diplomacy swirling around the Palestinians bid.

Regardless, Abbas said he had not been swayed by what he called “tremendous pressure” to drop the bid for United Nations recognition and instead to resume peace talks with Israel. Senior aides to the Palestinian leader said Abbas was undaunted by threats of punitive measures.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said, however, there was still time to find a solution to the diplomatic crisis.

Clinton told reporters in New York that the U.S. is talking with all sides to defuse the standoff, noting that the week was young and there were still several days to seek compromise.

She joined Netanyahu in calling for new talks and repeated the U.S. position that the only path to a separate state for Palestinians is through negotiations with Israel.

Nabil Shaath, senior aide to Abbas, told The Associated Press that the Palestinian leader informed U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon during their meeting Monday that he would present him with a letter requesting full membership on Friday, ahead of Abbas’ speech to the General Assembly. Abbas also met with French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe and European foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

Shaath said the secretary-general promised to “speed up the discussion of the request.” Earlier in the day, Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian observer to the U.N. said Abbas would submit the request after the speech.

Shaath said last ditch efforts to dissuade the Palestinian president from approaching the Security Council had failed and that offers had fallen short of Palestinian aspirations. He said Palestinians had been threatened with harsh punitive measures but that they had decided to move ahead nonetheless.

The comment appeared to reflect the warnings by some in the U.S. Congress that current and future financial aid to the Palestinian Authority could be in jeopardy if they move ahead with the membership bid.

The push at the world body is the first step to statehood for Palestinians who have for decades complained of being guests in their own land. Although any submission by the Palestinians wait weeks or months for the U.N. action, it has sparked a flurry of diplomatic activity with Mideast mediators scrambling to find a way to draw the two sides back to a negotiating table.

Each side in on-again-off-again Israeli-Palestinian talks have accused the other of being untrustworthy and intransigent participants in the peace process.

In a statement, Netanyahu called on Abbas to begin “direct negotiations in New York and continue them in Jerusalem and Ramallah.” But the statement provided no other details or indications that Netanyahu was willing to cede to any of the Palestinians’ demands.

U.N. protocol calls for Ban to receive the letter from Abbas and then to give it approval before moving it forward in the arduous and complicated process for a new member. Ban “reiterated his support for the two-state solution and stressed his desire to ensure that the international community and the two parties can find a way forward for resuming negotiations within a legitimate and balanced framework,” U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said after the secretary-general met with Abbas.

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