By Neil MacFarquhar

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, left, handed a letter requesting the membership to Ban Ki-moon, the U.N. Secretary General, before delivering his speech at the General Assembly.

Resisting American pressure, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority formally requested full United Nations membership on Friday as a path toward statehood, rejecting arguments by the United States and Israel that it was not a substitute for direct negotiations for peace in the Middle East.

Mr. Abbas handed a letter requesting the membership to Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations Secretary General, before delivering his speech at the annual General Assembly. Mr. Ban was submitting the request to the Security Council.

Speaking to Palestinian Americans who came to his hotel Thursday night, Mr. Abbas said the United States had aggressively sought to deter him from the move but that he had insisted on proceeding.

“There are small countries in the world that have gained their freedom and independence but we still haven’t got ours,” Mr. Abbas told his guests. “So we are going to demand this right.”

The request for Palestinian statehood on land occupied by Israel has become the dominant issue at this year’s General Assembly, refocusing global attention on one of the world’s most intractable conflicts.

The Security Council will likely take up the issue in earnest next week, diplomats said, when the question becomes whether the United States and its allies can stall it. Washington is also working to prevent the Palestinians from gathering the nine votes needed for it to pass in the full council and thus avoid further wrecking the image of the United States in the Middle East by casting yet another veto against something Arabs want.

The final vote is not expected to take place for more than a month.

Among the 15 members, some are expected to stay solidly in the Palestinian camp including Russia, China, Lebanon, South Africa, India and Brazil. The United States is a solid vote against, and the five European members—Britain, France, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Portugal and Germany—are all question marks. The positions of Colombia, Nigeria and Gabon are also not entirely clear.

The African Union supports membership, but it is not entirely clear if Gabon and Nigeria will go along. President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria did not mention the issue in his speech to the General Assembly, unlike many leaders from the developing world who support Palestine, and the statement by President Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon, was somewhat enigmatic. He said he hoped to soon see a Palestinian state, but noted that both the Palestinians and the people of Israel are friends of Gabon. Read more…

As published in www.nytimes.com on September 23, 2011.


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