A banner in the West Bank city of Ramallah supports the Palestinians'… (Mohamad Torokman / Reuters )
Reporting from the United Nations — Diplomats on Tuesday raced to nail down a plan to deflect the Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations, crafting a face-saving formula that could lessen the immediate prospect of a Security Council veto, which the Obama administration desperately sought to avoid.
Under the plan, the council decision on the application for recognition, which Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas plans to make Friday, would be put off indefinitely. That would buy time for the U.S. to try to restart negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, and would keep $600 million a year in American aid and other international assistance flowing to the Palestinians. Congress had threatened to cut the U.S. aid.
Diplomats said Abbas, who is scheduled to meet Wednesday with President Obama, had signed off on the plan.
The scenario, which Western officials have been trying to engineer behind the scenes for weeks, "is now likely," a senior European diplomat said.
Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian legislator and ally of Abbas who is in New York for the U.N. General Assembly session, said Palestinian officials are willing "to accept some delay, of the kind you would have under normal United Nations procedures."
But she said that if the United States or other countries delay the process to undermine the Palestinians' bid for enhanced international standing, "we have recourse to other action," such as approaching the General Assembly rather than the Security Council.
The General Assembly is regarded as being more pro-Palestinian.
Palestinian officials recently had expressed concern that the U.S. was lobbying hard against its measure, pressuring Security Council members to vote against it or at least abstain. The focus has centered on nations such as Gabon, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Portugal. Palestinians had predicted that they would win support from at least nine of the 15 Security Council members, the minimum needed for approval absent a veto by one of the five permanent members. But they acknowledged that they were not 100% confident.
Abbas this year decided to approach the United Nations because of his frustration that nearly two decades of U.S.-led negotiations had not led to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. Israel has feared that the Palestinians would use enhanced status at the U.N. to take legal redress against it in the International Criminal Court and other institutions.
A move to slow the deliberations will ease the current crisis atmosphere, avoiding a confrontation with the United States while allowing Abbas to say that he had fulfilled his promise to formally seek U.N. membership. Abbas' move was motivated in part, Palestinian officials say, by his desire to improve his countrymen's condition as Arabs throughout the region are rising up against oppressive governments.
Ashrawi, who is also a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee, said she believed that the idea of a delay originated with the United States or other Western powers. But other Palestinians said they believed that Abbas supported the idea because his other options were looking bleak.
The Security Council has sometimes moved immediately on membership requests, as it did this year on the application of South Sudan. But in other cases, it organizes committees to deliberate on the matter.
That might have been likely here in any case, because of indications that the council members are deeply divided on the issue. Countries such as Brazil, South Africa and India appear to support membership, but the U.S., Britain, France and several developing countries seem inclined to oppose it, diplomats said.
Catherine Ashton, the European Union's foreign policy chief, and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair for several weeks have been pushing behind the scenes for a delay in council actions.
Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister, hinted in an interview Tuesday with Europe 1 radio that a delay might be coming. The Security Council has a procedure for "dealing with such requests, and it can take a few days or weeks or more," he said.
U.S. officials have rebuffed Abbas' demands for new commitments on the key issues in negotiations. But they have also wanted to avoid doing damage to his administration, fearing that his decline would only strengthen extremists in the Palestinian territories.
Times staff writers Tina Susman and Christi Parsons in New York and Edmund Sanders in Jerusalem contributed to this report.