LONDON/UNITED NATIONS — Britain threatened Wednesday to abstain from a vote for enhanced Palestinian status at the United Nations unless the Palestinians commit to fresh talks with Israel, highlighting European divisions on the vote.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said that in order to secure Britain’s vote at the UN General Assembly in New York on Thursday, the Palestinians would have to unconditionally agree to negotiations on a lasting two-state deal with Israel.
France has led several European countries in supporting the Palestinian bid for their UN status to be upgraded to that of a “non-member state”, which would win them new global recognition.
Germany also said Wednesday it would not vote in favour of the bid.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday met two senior US officials to discuss his controversial bid for elevated UN recognition, diplomats said.
Abbas held talks with Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and US Middle East envoy David Hill at his hotel, diplomats said. The United States and Israel strongly oppose the Palestinian bid for non-member state.
“They had talks on the Palestinian application for membership, the US position on this is well known,” a Western official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Hague said to win Britain’s vote, the Palestinians would also have to pledge not to sue Israel for war crimes through the International Criminal Court (ICC) and confirm that the UN resolution would not apply retroactively.
“Up until the time of the vote itself, we will remain open to voting in favour of the resolution if we see public assurances by the Palestinians on these points,” Hague told parliament.
“However, in the absence of these assurances the United Kingdom would abstain on the vote.”
He said the guarantees sought by Britain would “not be difficult to make” and could be made either in the text of the Palestinian resolution, or in accompanying statements.
But it looked likely that Britain would abstain after a Palestinian official said there would be no changes to the resolution before the vote.
“I can assure you that the text has been tabled, it will not be modified,” said Hanan Ashrawi, a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.
Even without Britain’s vote, the Palestinians are poised to win the backing of a majority of the General Assembly’s 193 member states.
Along with France, European supporters of the Palestinian upgrade include Spain, Norway, Denmark and Switzerland.
Lithuania has said it will abstain on the vote, which would give the Palestinians the same diplomatic status at the UN as the Vatican.
If the request is approved, it will give the Palestinians access to a range of UN agencies and also potentially to the ICC, where they could accuse Israel of war crimes.
Hague said it was essential that the Palestinians provide the guarantees sought by Britain in order to assure the international community that they are serious about returning to bilateral negotiations with Israel.
“For us to support a resolution at the UN it is important that the risks to the peace process are addressed,” he told lawmakers.
“There has been a dangerous impasse in the peace process over the last two years.”
Hague called on the United States to do everything in its power to revive negotiations, which were frozen in September 2010 when Israel refused a Palestinian demand to extend a moratorium on settlement building in the occupied territories.
He also called on Israel to be ready to re-enter talks, and urged its government to “avoid reacting in a way that damages the peace process” should the Palestinians win Thursday’s vote.
The European Union has been striving for more than a year to adopt a united front on the Palestinians’ UN status.
With the 27 EU member states divided on Thursday’s vote, diplomatic sources told AFP that the bloc’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton was expected to issue “a fairly anodyne” EU statement just ahead of the vote.
“It will call for a political solution, a return to negotiations,” said an EU diplomat.