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Obama pushes Europe not to support Palestinians' U.N. statehood bid

British Premier David Cameron is noncommittal on the Palestinians' statehood bid at a joint news conference in London. The U.S. is deeply worried support for the unilateral step would isolate Israel.

May 26, 2011|By Christi Parsons and Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times
  • President Obama receives applause after delivering his speech to a joint session of Parliament during his state visit to Britain.
President Obama receives applause after delivering his speech to a joint… (Jeff J Mitchell, Pool Photo )

Reporting from London and Washington — A week after ratcheting up pressure on Israel's government to restart peace talks with Palestinians, President Obama launched a campaign to persuade European leaders not to endorse a separate Palestinian bid for statehood. But his appeal to Britain's prime minister, David Cameron, won only a noncommittal response.

After a meeting Wednesday with Obama, Cameron said the time was not yet right for European leaders to decide on the Palestinian bid for United Nations recognition, which the Palestinian Authority leadership is expected to make at the U.N. General Assembly in September.

Cameron said world leaders should press Palestinians and Israelis to return to the negotiating table that they abandoned last September.

"We want to discuss this within the European Union and try and maximize the leverage and pressure [that] the European Union can bring on both sides to get this vital process moving," Cameron said at a news conference with Obama in London.

Senior Obama administration officials portrayed Cameron's statements as supportive of U.S. efforts to get the two sides back to the negotiating table, but the officials acknowledged that no timetable for future talks has emerged.

"We think it's a positive development that the president's vision was fully embraced by the U.K., and that they are underscoring the urgency of pursuing that option and using their influence to get the parties back to the table," one senior administration official said.

The administration is deeply concerned that European leaders may decide to support the unilateral Palestinian bid for recognition, a step that would isolate Israel and embarrass its most powerful ally, the United States.

In a speech May 19 in Washington, Obama offered the outline of a new plan for peace negotiations. Aides said he sought, in part, to convince other nations that the U.S.-led Mideast peace process was still alive and that they should not grant recognition at the U.N. as a way of helping the Palestinians address their grievances.

U.S. officials said Obama was making the issue a top priority throughout his four-country, six-day European tour, which includes a stop in Deauville, France, to meet with other leaders of the Group of 8 major industrial nations.

Obama told reporters in London that a Palestinian state can be created through negotiations, but that it will require "wrenching compromise from each side." He said the effort by Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, to seek U.N. recognition was "a mistake."

Although Cameron praised Obama's new principles for peace, which include using Israel's 1967 boundaries as a baseline for territorial negotiations, he declined to go further. British officials have previously warned Israelis that they could support a Palestinian bid for recognition if peace talks broke down.

Some other European officials said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's contentious visit to the White House and Capitol Hill convinced them that prospects for talks have actually declined. The officials said Netanyahu offered few concessions for a peace deal, and that the U.S. Congress appeared to squarely support Netanyahu's tough line.

"These meetings tested the willingness to go back to the negotiations, and they showed that the resistance was stronger than a lot of us thought," one senior European official said.

Most European nations have not committed themselves on the U.N. vote. The French and Spanish governments have suggested that they are leaning toward recognition; Germany and Italy appear reluctant.

christi.parsons@latimes.com

paul.richter@latimes.com

Parsons reported from London and Richter from Washington.

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