WASHINGTON — The United States and Europe are racing to avert or delay a showdown over Palestinian statehood at the United Nations that may crush already dim Mideast peace prospects.
Senior U.S. and European officials, at meetings Sunday afternoon in New York, hoped to bring Israel and the Palestinians back to stalled negotiations without antagonizing either side or embroiling the region in new turmoil.
But each is locked in intractable positions over the expected Palestinian bid this week for U.N. recognition, and chances for a breakthrough seem slim. As a result, officials say the effort may be more about damage control than diplomacy.
The Palestinians are frustrated by their inability to win from Israel concessions such as a freeze on settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. They want to seize the moment to try to gain greater standing and attention with a high-stakes wager on statehood and U.N. membership. The United States and Israel vehemently opposed this move.
Only 12 months ago, President Barack Obama said he wanted the U.N. to welcome Palestine as its newest member this year. But talks have broken down, and the United States is now leading the opposition to something it actually supports.
The United States has promised a veto of the Palestinian bid at the Security Council, leading to fears the action could spark violence in the region.
The American side was working to secure additional opposition to recognition, officials said. Without nine affirmative votes in the 15-member Council, the Palestinian resolution would fail, and Washington is hoping it won't have to act alone.
U.S. officials believe that six other members may vote against or abstain, meaning the Palestinians would fall short. That tally could not be confirmed.
Heading off or watering down the Palestinian resolution had been the goal of international diplomats. They hoped to parlay that success into a meeting between Israeli and Palestinian leaders where the two sides would relaunch negotiations.
Yet the Palestinians have refused to back down and give up the little leverage they hope to win.
"The aim of this is try to elevate the Palestinians to a more equal footing so that this disparity that existed over the last 18 years, which allowed Israel to exploit it to its advantage, can end, and they can talk now to an equal member state of the United Nations," said Maen Rashid Areikat, the Palestinian's top representative to the United States.
Areikat told CNN's State of the Union on Sunday that the Palestinians could accept an alternative, but it must include "clear terms of reference to return to the negotiations, clear time frame and an endgame."
Given the stakes and entrenched positions, the best the United States and its allies may be able to achieve is a delay in action on the Palestinian bid.