Netanyahu aims to prevent UN vote on Palestine

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, followed by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Va., and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of Calif. arrives to address a joint meeting of Congress, Tuesday, May 24, 2011, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to a supportive joint meeting of Congress, repeating one of the themes that President Barack Obama addressed in his speech Thursday, namely that peace cannot be imposed, it must be negotiated, referring to efforts at the U.N. by the Palestinian leadership to gain recognition as a state, set for September.

Maen Rashid Areikat, the Palestinian Representative to the U.S., speaking on CNN after Netanyahu's address, defended the Fatah-Hamas unity pact and said that the Palestinian leadership will prepare the ground for negotiations, but said that if talks are not on track, the proposal will move forward.

"If there is a viable alternative," Areikat said, the Palestinian negotiations to move forward at the U.N. might be put on hold.

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Thus, proposals for a U.N. vote to recognize a Palestinian state in September, add urgency to the U.S. effort to restart the stalled Middle East peace talks, even though a formal membership proposal would start at the Security Council, where the U.S. would presumably exercise its veto.

As a former U.N. Ambassador, Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu knows that the crisis will deepen if negotiations do not begin before September, when the Palestinian leadership intends to rally world leaders to vote for either an upgrade of its status to observer state or to invoke one of several General Assembly procedures to show diplomatic support for Palestinian membership in the U.N., in order to pressure the U.S. and Israel to return to negotiations. It was Israel's Defense Minister who called the Palestinian work at the U.N. a potential "diplomatic tsunami."

Up until last week, there was hope that Netanyahu's address to a joint Meeting of Congress would be the launch of Middle East peace talks, driven by a recognition of the changes of leadership in its Arab neighbors, and complicated by a Palestinian Hamas-Fatah unity agreement.

President Obama's speech last week, clarified in the days that followed, called for borders of Israel and a new Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines, with mutually agreed swaps of territory, a position that has led to tensions with Netanyahu. And, Netanyahu said that Fatah should tear up the unity pact with Hamas, comparing it to al Qaeda.

The U.S. Congress gave Israel's Prime Minister over two dozen standing ovations, and the stage is set for a showdown at the U.N., unless major changes take place during the summer.

  • Pamela Falk

    Pamela Falk is CBS News Foreign Affairs Analyst and an international lawyer, based at the United Nations.

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