Palestinians reject U.S. pressure on U.N. bid

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas holds his hands to his face as President Obama speaks during the 66th session of the General Assembly at United Nations headquarters Sept. 21, 2011.
AP Photo

Updated at 3:29 p.m. ET

UNITED NATIONS - A top Palestinian official said Wednesday that President Mahmoud Abbas had no plans to agree to a delayed vote on his bid for membership in the United Nations, rejecting mounting pressure from the United States and France.

Palestinian Deputy Prime Minster Nabil Shaath said that Abbas will formally request U.N. membership on Friday and will ask for expedited consideration from the Security Council, CBS News foreign affairs analyst Pamela Falk reports

The request will come in the form of a letter of application on Friday when Abbas is to speak to the U.N. General Assembly, but he faced a withering lack of support as the world body opened its annual meeting. President Obama said there could be no "shortcuts" in the quest for Middle East peace, a message that was echoed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

"We will not allow any political maneuvering on this issue," said Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to Abbas and former chief of negotiations.

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Erekat said Abbas had made that plain in discussions with all parties involved over the last three days of meetings in the lead-up to the annual UN global gathering of presidents, heads of state and ruling royalty.

Sarkozy proposed a one-year timetable Wednesday for Israel and the Palestinians to reach a peace accord, part of a concerted push with the United States to steer the Palestinians away from an application for U.N. membership.

Sarkozy spoke shortly after Mr. Obama warned against action on the Palestinian bid before there was a peace agreement. He said negotiations, not U.N. declarations, were essential to a lasting peace.

While Mr. Obama stopped short of calling directly for the Palestinians to drop their bid for full membership — an effort the U.S. has vowed to veto in the Security Council — Sarkozy sounded a more compromising tone and urged each side, and the international community, to approach the deadlocked process with new ideas and tactics.

"Let us cease our endless debates on the parameters and let us begin negotiations and adopt a precise and ambitious timetable," Sarkozy told the leaders and officials gathered at the U.N. "Sixty years without moving one centimeter forward, doesn't that suggest that we should change the method and the scheduling here?"

"Let's have one month to resume discussions, six months to find agreement on borders and security, one year to reach a definitive agreement," he said.

A senior European Union official said the proposal laid out by Sarkozy matched one by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton during a meeting with EU foreign ministers on Tuesday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the discussions.

Abbas' push for full membership, which he has said would be submitted on Friday, has dominated this year's U.N. meeting, pushing the U.S. and Israel against a wall of international sympathy for Palestinians. While the full membership bid would meet with a certain U.S. veto in the Security Council, assuming the Palestinians muster enough votes to have it approved, they have succeeded in bringing the issue again to the forefront of the world's political discussions after years of failed negotiations, bickering and sporadic outbreaks of violence.

Sarkozy said that by setting preconditions, "we doom ourselves to failure. ... There must be no preconditions."

It remained unclear whether the latest proposal would be enough to avert a showdown over statehood that has consumed the U.N. over the past few days and sparked a frenzy of last-minute diplomatic door-knocking by the Israelis and the Palestinians, as well as a flurry of discussions between the Quartet of Mideast negotiators — the U.S., the E.U., the U.N. and Russia.

But the proposal outlined by Sarkozy received a warmer welcome from the Palestinians than Mr. Obama's comments.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior Abbas aide, told The Associated Press that the Palestinians "appreciate the speech and the positions included in that speech."

"The Palestinian leadership will study seriously the positions and the ideas in that speech," he said.

Mr. Obama's remarks, however, drew a lukewarm response, with the Palestinian delegation wearing stern and disapproving looks as the U.S. president spoke.

(Watch some of President Obama's remarks at left)

"Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the United Nations — if it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now," the president told U.N. delegates. "Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians who must live side by side. Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians — not us — who must reach agreement on the issues that divide them."

Mr. Obama showed solidarity with Israel, not mentioning a return to the borders before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war in which Israel annexed territory. The remarks may rile some in the Arab world where mass uprisings against authoritarian regimes have also sparked a new measure of anti-U.S. sentiment. Mr. Obama's words also stood in stark contrast to the image he left behind when he addressed the Muslim world from Cairo in 2009, pledging to improve relations and cooperation.