US urges caution as Palestinians bid for UN vote

The United States is trying to carefully navigate a path forward as Palestinians seek to push hopes for a Palestinian state to the top of the UN agenda, top US diplomat John Kerry (above) said Tuesday. -- PHOTO: AFP
The United States is trying to carefully navigate a path forward as Palestinians seek to push hopes for a Palestinian state to the top of the UN agenda, top US diplomat John Kerry (above) said Tuesday. -- PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (AFP) - The United States is trying to carefully navigate a path forward as Palestinians seek to push hopes for a Palestinian state to the top of the UN agenda, top US diplomat John Kerry said Tuesday.

But as the Palestinians threaten to submit a draft text Wednesday to the UN Security Council, Kerry hinted Washington did not believe now was the right time as Israel gears up for snap elections in March.

Speaking to reporters just before meeting with chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat in London, Kerry said he had had a series of "candid and constructive conversations" during his three-day whirlwind trip to Europe.

"Many of us share a deep sense of urgency about this, given the constant threat of escalation and the dangers of a downward spiral of violence," the US secretary of state told a press conference.

"But we're also very mindful that we have to carefully calibrate any steps that are taken for this difficult moment in the region. We all understand the challenges that are presented by this conflict."

Amid reports of competing Arab-backed and French-led resolutions, Kerry has been meeting his European and Russian counterparts as well as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to gauge support for the Palestinian UN push.

The Palestinians have said they will submit an Arab-backed draft text to the UN as early as Wednesday which would call for a withdrawal of Israeli troops from Palestinian lands within two years - a timetable the US would oppose.

France is putting together a more nuanced version setting a two-year timetable for concluding a peace treaty, without mentioning the withdrawal of Israeli forces.

NO US DECISION

Asked what kind of resolution the US might be able to support at the UN, Kerry insisted the US administration has "made no determinations... about language, approaches, specific resolutions, any of that."

Traditionally, the US has used its power of veto at the UN Security Council to shoot down what it sees as moves against its close ally, Israel.

While Kerry refused to detail any of his private conversations, he stressed the US believed no-one should "interfere or do something that might be perceived of as interfering in the course" of the Israeli elections.

"What we're trying to do is have a constructive conversation with everybody to find the best way to go forward in order to create the climate, the atmosphere, the political space, if you will, to be able to go back to negotiations and resolve this politically," Kerry added.

"We want to find the most constructive way of doing something that therefore will not have unintended consequences, but also can stem the violence."

Netanyahu warned late Monday after meeting Kerry for almost three hours in Rome that European backing for the Palestinians could harm his country.

"Attempts of the Palestinians and of several European countries to force conditions on Israel will only lead to a deterioration in the regional situation and will endanger Israel," he said in a statement.

"Therefore, we will strongly oppose this."

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told AFP they were looking for "a resolution which everyone can get behind".

There is a growing impatience in Europe over the failure to make progress in peace talks, amid fears the Middle East risks spiralling into even greater chaos.

Several European parliaments have called on their governments to move ahead with the recognition of a Palestinian state.

The US administration opposes moves to bind negotiators' hands through a UN resolution - particularly any attempt to set a deadline for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the West Bank.

But a US veto risks running contrary to Washington's avowed aim of a Palestinian state and would anger key Arab allies, many of whom are much-needed partners in the US-led coalition against Islamic State militants.