RAMALLAH, West Bank – The expected U.N. vote today to recognize a state of Palestine will be far more than symbolic – it could give the Palestinians leverage in future border talks with Israel and open the way for possible war crimes charges against the Jewish state.
The Palestinians want the 193-member General Assembly to accept Palestine, on the lands Israel occupied in 1967, as a nonmember observer state. They anticipate broad support.
For Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the U.N. bid is a last-ditch attempt to stay relevant as a leader after years of failed peace talks with Israel, at a time when his Islamic militant Hamas rivals are gaining ground.
The U.S. and Israel have tried to block the quest for U.N. recognition of Palestine, saying its an attempt to bypass Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that broke down four years ago.
The U.S. deputy secretary of state, William Burns, met with Abbas in New York on Wednesday, asking Abbas again to drop the idea and promising that President Obama would re-engage as a mediator in 2013, Abbas aide Saeb Erekat said.
Abbas told Burns it was too late.
Israel, meanwhile, appeared to back away from threats of drastic measures if the Palestinians get U.N. approval, with officials suggesting the government would take steps only if the Palestinians use their new status to act against Israel.
The Palestinians say they need U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, the lands Israel captured in 1967, to be able to resume negotiations with Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahus predecessors accepted the 1967 lines as a basis for border talks, with modifications to be negotiated, including land swaps that would enable Israel to annex some of the largest Jewish settlements. Those talks did not produce a deal, and the sides remained apart on other key issues.