U.N. "bust-up" over Palestinian statehood nears

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas arrives for a meeting with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton at the Millennium Hotel on 44th Street during the 66th session of the General Assembly in New York, Sept. 19, 2011.

As the clock ticks toward Friday and the Palestinians' looming formal application for statehood at the U.N., all sides involved -- the Palestinians, the Israelis, the European Union negotiators, and President Obama -- know how high the stakes have become in this face-off.

Palestinian leaders have said it is essentially too late to put the brakes on the request, but feverish negotiations continue to find a solution that would avert the spectacle of a failed bid for statehood in the Security Council.

"The key thing is to see if we can find a way out of the possibility of a great showdown confrontation, and get to a situation where there is a big advance for Palestinian statehood and a renewed negotiation," former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is now Special Envoy of the Quartet on the Middle East, tells CBS News in an exclusive interview.

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Blair says he's still hopeful an agreement can be reached that will allow both the Israelis and Palestinians to save face, and, hopefully, move the two sides ever so slightly back towards negotiations.

Tony Blair and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad
Quartet Representative Tony Blair and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad at a meeting of the donor support group for the Palestinians, Sept. 18, 2011 at United Nations headquarters.

"We are trying to get a credible offer together. We've got to deal with the main issues - the borders, Jerusalem, refugees, security," says Blair. "What we have got to do is set a framework for the negotiation and probably combine it with a time line that makes it clear we are serious about the negotiation, but right now we have a situation where we don't have agreement."

Intense talks ongoing over Palestinian statehood

Time, concedes Blair, is running out fast.

"We'll either have a bust-up at the U.N. which will probably mean bad news on the ground, and no negotiation, or we can try and find a way through by agreement which has a step forward for the Palestinians at the U.N. and also a renewed negotiation towards a peace deal. My preference is obviously is to go the route that may yield something rather than the route that, in the end, will just end up with a situation that is difficult for everyone."

Aides to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas made it clear Tuesday that the "bust-up" was all but unavoidable at this late stage.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Senior aides tell the Associated Press that Abbas remains undaunted by the "tremendous pressure" to drop the statehood bid, including a new call from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for renewed direct negotiations.

"Abbas says to every one: it's enough, 20 years of negotiations are more than enough, the world should intervene and end the Israeli occupation as long as the USA can't," Mohammed Ishtayeh, an Abbas aide, tells the AP.

The consequences will be very real, for all parties.

If the statehood bid goes forward, Israel could end up more isolated in the region, diplomats agree. In addition to hostility from Turkey and Egypt, Israel now has another neighbor, Saudi Arabia, offering to make up the difference in some of the aid that would be cut off from Washington and Israel. The public humiliation of a defeat at the U.N. would also increase anti-Israeli and anti-American sentiment on the Arab "street".

Abbas also has much to lose. Although his gambit of going for broke at the U.N. with an outright request for statehood - knowing it would likely fail - might have seemed reversible when he first proposed it, the concept has taken on a life of its own.

  • Pamela Falk

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

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