Palestinian UN statehood bid at heart of Kerry-Netanyahu talks


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said before talks on Monday with US Secretary of State John Kerry he would defy any UN move to "dictate" a timeframe for withdrawal from land Palestinians seek for a state.

Before the two convened in Rome, Israel put the United States on notice it expected Washington to exercise its Security Council veto against any resolutions setting a timeframe.

Jordan has circulated a draft Palestinian resolution to the 15-member forum calling for Israeli occupation of Palestinian land to end by November 2016.

US officials have indicated that Washington did not find the Palestinian draft acceptable, but said that with matters still fluid, it was premature to take a position now on any particular Security Council resolution.

"Whether we have the nine votes at the Security Council or we don't, the decision has been taken to present the Palestinian-Arab resolution in the Security Council on Wednesday," said Wasel Abu Youssef, an official of thePalestine Liberation Organisation, the Palestinians' highest decision-making body, led by President Mahmoud Abbas.

Shortly before leaving for Rome, in the middle of a re-election campaign, Netanyahu said:

"We will not accept attempts to dictate unilateral, time-bound moves to us," he told reporters. "I will say these things in the clearest manner. Even if there are dictates, we will stand up to them firmly."

Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said Israel expected Washington to use its Security Council veto, if necessary, as it has done in the past in support of its ally.

France is also leading a bid among Europeans to draft a resolution with a less definitive timetable before Israel's March 17 election. A Western diplomat said the Europeans felt the United States was now open to that possibility.

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks championed by Kerry, who had set a nine-month target date for their success, collapsed in April. A Gaza war last summer, heightened violence in recent weeks in Israel and the West Bank and the Israeli election campaign have all dampened prospects of resuming talks soon.

Kerry planned to travel later on Monday for talks with counterparts from France, Britain and Germany, and he will meet Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat in London on Tuesday.

While saying he would support Palestinian statehood under an eventual peace deal, Netanyahu has balked at comprehensive withdrawals from the West Bank, which many Israelis consider a security bulwark and Jewish biblical birthright.