Palestinians try to change the rules at UN

American diplomats are running out of time in their effort to dissuade Palestinian leaders from seeking a U.N. vote on their bid for statehood. A Security Council vote could come within days.

CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips reports that in the West Bank city of Ramallah, the regular demonstrations may look familiar, but they are now happening in what could be a fateful week in the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. It is a week in which the Palestinians try to change the rules of the game.

The new banner being waved in Palestinian towns does not just call for an end to the Israeli occupation, it calls for the recognition by the U.N. of a Palestinian state now, even before the details that have stymied negotiations for years are worked out.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has resisted intense diplomatic arm-twisting from the United States and insists he will go ahead and make the statehood application at the U.N. this week. It is an application the U.S. has described as a distraction from real negotiations, and which the Americans have threatened to use its Security Council veto to stop.

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But for the Palestinians, who have seen negotiations stall time and again while Israeli settlement in the West Bank increases, the statehood gambit is a way to try to break the log jam.

"This makes a big difference for Palestinians. It's a last resort. There is nothing else they could do," said Walid Nijem, a Ramallah cafe owner.

The 1967 border lines - drawn before the Israeli occupation of the West Bank in the Six Day War - are the geographical holy grail to the Palestinians, but are rejected as indefensible by the Israelis, half-a-million of whom now live on what used to be the Palestinian side of the line.

Now, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also rejected American advice and will go to the U.N. as well to put the Israeli case.

Netanyahu said recently: "Now I know that the General Assembly is not a place where Israel gets a fair hearing. I know that the automatic majorities there always rush to condemn Israel and twist the truth beyond recognition, but I've decided to go there anyway."

The Palestinians have looked around the Arab world this summer and learned something, namely that decisive action - in Egypt, in Tunisia, in Libya - can produce dramatic results. Now they've decided on a bold move of their own. They want to negotiate, they say, but state to state.

  • Mark Phillips

    Mark Phillips returned to the CBS News London bureau as a correspondent in 1993. He has covered many major stories since then, including the war in the Balkans, the death of Princess Diana and the weapons inspection conflicts in Iraq.

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