UNITED NATIONS - The UN Security Council on Wednesday pushed back a decision on the Palestinian bid to join the United Nations in a move that will give more time to international efforts to revive direct talks.
But UN envoys for the two foes wrangled over who is to blame for the latest year-old negotiations deadlock, with diplomats warning both sides are hardening their positions.
The 15-member Security Council sent the bid made by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last Friday to a special membership committee to give its verdict.
A full session of the council met for barely two minutes in the first public discussion of the bid that the US has vowed to veto when it comes to a vote.
“Unless I hear a proposal to the contrary I shall send the application of Palestine to the committee on new members,” said Lebanon’s UN ambassador Nawaf Salam, president of the council for September.
No comments were made and Salam hurriedly brought the gavel down to get the meeting over.
The membership committee, made up of all 15 council nations, will hold its first meeting on Friday.
Abbas was given a standing ovation in the UN General Assembly last Friday after making the historic application.
The United States and Israel, strongly opposing the bid, say only direct Israel-Palestinian talks can create a Palestinian state.
The diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East - the United States, Russia, European Union and United Nations - has since launched a new campaign to get the two sides back into talks with a set timetable.
Palestinians ended US-brokered talks one year ago when Israel ended a moratorium on settlement construction in the occupied territories. Israel’s approval of another 1,100 settlers housing units in East Jerusalem has further infuriated the Palestinian leadership.
Palestinian envoy to the UN, Riyad Mansour, called the construction “offensive, provocative and illegal” and “1,100 answers” to thwart the efforts to revive talks.
He said it was “a clear answer by the Israeli government to the Quartet, to negotiation and to the refusal to abide by the global consensus on the fact that settlements are an illegal obstacle to peace”.
Ron Prosor, Israel’s UN ambassador, said the Palestinins are using “every pretext in order not to find a reason not to go into negotiations”.
“Is it easy, the answer is no. Is it frustrating - yes. Do we have sleepless nights, yes. But at the end of the day that is the only way forward,” he said of the talks process.
When asked about the approval of new settlements, Prosor said Israel was ready to negotiate on Jerusalem with other final status topics.
Israeli officials have signalled a hardline on East Jerusalem however and Prosor told reporters: “Jerusalem, I would like to stress, that is the capital of the Jewish people. This is our heart. Jerusalem, if I may say so, was the capital of the Jewish people when London was still a swamp.”
The ambassador acknowledged that Israel is working with the US to get Security Council members to oppose or abstain in any vote on Palestinian membership.
“Yes we are both working, and truthfully, on both sides to have a bloc of countries that basically would say ladies and gentlemen go back to direct negotiations, sit down and talk this thing with each other,” the ambassador told reporters.
The Palestinians are also sending high level delegations to council members such as Gabon, Bosnia and Nigeria.
Israel on Wednesday rejected an international outcry over its plans to build the 1,100 new homes in Gilo in annexed East Jerusalem, insisting the neighbourhood was “not a settlement”.
“Gilo is not a settlement, nor is it an outpost,” Mark Regev, a spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told AFP.
“Gilo is a neighbourhood in the very heart of Jerusalem some five minutes from the centre of the city,” he said.
“There is no contradiction between this decision, which is only a planning decision, and the government’s pursuit of peace through the principle of two states for two peoples.”
The housing plan, which was signed off by Israel’s interior ministry on Tuesday, drew a sharply worded response from the Palestinians, and a chorus of condemnation from Britain, China, France and the US.
And they were joined in their criticism on Wednesday by Egypt, Italy and Russia.
“Such an Israeli step reflects the country’s intention to continue with its provocative policy and defiance of the international consensus regarding the illegitimacy of settlement activities,” said Egypt’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Amr.
Italy expressed its “profound disappointment” at the move, and Russia said it was “counting [on Israel] so that the construction projects in East Jerusalem are reviewed.”
Gilo lies in mostly Arab East Jerusalem, which Israel occupied along with the West Bank in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed in a move not recognised by the international community.
“All Israeli governments over the last 40 years have built in Jewish neighbourhoods of Jerusalem and there has been no change in policy,” Regev said.
Around 200,000 Israelis live in occupied East Jerusalem alongside nearly 270,000 Palestinians.