PM sanctions slowing nuclear programme

He told guests at the Hilton Park Lane: “Now there are some who say nothing will work – and that we have to learn to live with a nuclear armed Iran. I say we don’t and we shouldn’t. But at the same time I also refuse to give in to those who say that the current policy is fatally flawed, and that we have no choice but military action. A negotiated settlement remains within Iran’s grasp. But until they change course, we have a strategy of ever tougher sanctions.

“Just today, Britain has secured a further round of new sanctions through the EU Foreign Affairs Council. And these relentless sanctions are having an impact no-one expected a year ago. They have slowed the nuclear programme.”

News of the new sanctions focusing on gas exports and banks was welcomed by Benjamin Netanyahu, though he warned that only when the “centrifuges stop spinning and when the Iranian nuclear programme is rolled back” will the world know the goal of sanctions has been achieved.

Cameron insisted that “nothing – and I mean nothing is off the table” but said he had personally told Netanyahu that “now is not the time for Israel to resort to military action. Beyond the unpredictable dangers inherent in any conflict, the other reason is this: At the very moment when the Regime faces unprecedented pressure and the people are on the streets and when Iran’s only real ally in Syria is losing his grip on power a foreign military strike is exactly the chance the Regime would look for to unite his people against a foreign enemy. We shouldn’t give them that chance. We need the courage to give these sanctions time to work.”

The Conservative leader – who said Britain “will always stand by Israel, protect Israel” – told the gathering that standing up to Iran was one of three key steps to securing the country’s future, alongside seizing the opportunities presented by the Arab Spring and “taking the hard choices needed to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians”. He said he believed “time is running out for a two-state solution – and with it Israel’s best chance to live in peace with her neighbours”.

The prime minister called on Israel to relax restrictions on Gaza, provide more support for economic development in the West Bank and halt settlement building. But he added: “I know it takes two to negotiate. So let me say this clearly to President Abbas there is no path to statehood except through talks with Israel. So if the Palestinian plan is simply posturing with the UN rather than negotiating with Israel, Britain will never support it.”

On the domestic front, the prime minister – who received a standing ovation at the conclusion of his speech – had particularly tough words for the boycott movement. “To those in Britain’s universities and trade unions who want to boycott Israel and consign it to some sort of international ghetto, I say not only will this Government never allow you to shut down 60 years worth of vibrant exchange and partnership that does so much to make our countries stronger. But I also say this: we know what you are doing – trying to delegitimise the state of Israel – and we will not have it.”

He paid tribute to those in the room – including Ambassadors Matthew Gould and Daniel Taub – who are “determined to build the strongest possible” bilateral relationship including the Nobel prize winners of the UK-Israel Life Sciences Council. And he joked: “These are proper Nobel Prize winners. Not the European Union.”

Stuart Polak, Director of CFI, said friends of Israel should be “deeply satisfied” with the Prime Minister’s words. “He maintained a strong stance on Iran, confirming that nothing is off the table. He expressed concern about Palestinian delegitimsation of Israel, their glorification of terror and their refusal to negotiate. His assertion that Britain would never support Palestinian posturing at the UN was also very welcome.” Jeremy Newmark, chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, said: “We welcome the Prime Minister’s clear acknowledgement of our longstanding position that boycotts are a tactic of those who promote the assault upon Israel’s legitimacy. We wholeheartedly commend his stance that he will respond to them by further strengthening ties between Britain and Israel.”

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Labour calls for Hezbollah to be placed on EU’s terror list

Alexander, who visited Israel last December, reaffirmed his party’s commitment to a two-state solution and expressed “our absolute solidarity” with Israel in the wake of the bombing of a bus carrying tourists in Bulgaria in July. Israel blamed Hezbollah for the attack.

And weeks after William Hague said he would like to see the EU “designate and sanction the military wing”, Alexander told the gathering: “When in government, we proscribed the military wing of Hezbollah here in the UK. It is time that the military wing of Hezbollah is proscribed in the EU as well. We will support the government in that initiative.”
Alexander earlier used his keynote speech to conference delegates to reiterate Labour’s support for the upgrading of the Palestinians’ status at the UN, a year after his call for the British government to support a bid for recognition as a full member state provoked condemnation from Jewish community leaders. Britain said last year that it would abstain from any vote. While not mentioning any future bid for full statehood, Alexander added: “If I was foreign secretary, I would not sit on the fence. I would break that silence. I would use my voice and upgrade the representation of the Palestinians at the UN.”
Speaking to LFI, Miliband – who warned that the current impasse in the peace process is “bleak” – sought to explain the party’s stance on UN statehood, saying: “We have got to try and find a way of encouraging moderate voices that exist in the Palestinian community, to show that some progress can be made.” Saying people should have “no illusions about my commitment to the state of Israel”, he added: “We have deep, deep concerns about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. And that’s why we have taken the position we have about tough sanctions on Iran. We must find a peaceful way forward in relation to Iran’s nuclear ambitions but are under no illusions about the challenge.”
In an address described as “incredibly warm” by observers, he also said: “One of the pleasures of this job over the last two years has been getting to know [the Jewish] community better.”Addressing the same event, attended by MPs, peers and community figures including the Jewish Leadership Council, which is attending all three party conferences, Israeli ambassador Daniel Taub thanked the party for its “wholehearted” support for sanctions on Iran. He also had praise for Miliband’s personal main speech, during which he said he would “not be standing here today” if not for the “tolerance of this great country” where his parents found refuge after fleeing the Nazis.

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Gilad to see you!

GILAD SCHALIT is to visit London next month for the first time since being freed from captivity.
The former soldier, who was kidnapped in a cross-border raid in 2006 and was held for nearly six years in Gaza until last October, has accepted an invitation to join hundreds of other young people from across Europe at a major conference in north London.

The 26-year-old (pictured) – who now writes a weekly sports column for one of Israel’s biggest newspapers – is also expected to attend a Premier League football match during the course of his private visit. The trip, which will see him accompanied by a friend from his village, is due to last for several days.
“He’s never been to London,” the 26-year-old’s father Noam told the Jewish News. “He’s very much looking forward to his visit to the UK – especially to attend the football match.”
The B’nai B’rith Europe Young Jewish Adult Forum, held in association with B’nai B’rith UK and attended by delegates from 25 countries aged 25 to 45, will include workshops, services at a local synagogue and a gala dinner with live band. The former captive, who has listed travelling the world as one of his top priorities for the during the next year, will be presented with honorary membership of B’nai B’rith during the event.
Countless British Jews campaigned hard for Gilad’s release and for him to be granted visits from the Red Cross. At the 2010 Young Adults Forum, participants signed a petition to the UN urging action on the issue. John Reeves, international VP of B’nai B’rith International and chair of the Young Adult Commission of B’nai B’rith Europe, said: “Gilad’s visit to London is a ‘thank you’ for the long and intensive campaign for his release pursued by members of B’nai B’rith along with other organisations.
“Gilad is the true embodiment of the indestructible survival of the Jewish spirit. His service to the army and country is a demonstration of the young in the support of Israel, which is the pre-eminent aim of the forthcoming B’nai B’rith Forum in November.”
Expressing delight at the presence of the special guest, BBUK President Jean Etherton said: “It will be a wonderful opportunity for Gilad to be together with young Jews from all over Europe for a weekend of information, education, inspiration, fun and entertainment.
“We extended this invitation to Gilad in the hope that his presence at the Forum will inspire those who are attending from around the world as an example of someone who has overcome great adversity in his life.”

– To book tickets for the forum call 01923 776669

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Palestinians Renewing Bid To Upgrade Status At UN

Nearly a year after the Palestinian Authority’s failed attempt at recognition as a full member state, Foreign Minister Riyad Malki announced last weekend that President Mahmoud Abbas would return to the General Assembly on 27 September to seek non-member observer status. Such a bid – which would require the support of only a majority of the 193 member states – would enable the Palestinians to join UN bodies including the International Criminal Court, a development that Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor warned could be used to “hurt us”.

The envoy to the UN – who said that Abbas would have a “guaranteed majority” at the Assembly – told Israel Radio: “There is an attempt (by the Palestinians) to make unilateral moves in order to internationalise the conflict. But beyond what are perhaps the feelings of frustration, it is important to remember that the path to peace really is through the negotiating table with Israel.”

Revealing the move in Ramallah, Malki said: “We are looking forward to getting 180 votes. We will become a non-member (observer) state in 2012.” However, he did not put a precise time-frame on a vote, saying: “When we are sure we have won absolute support from the largest possible number of states, we will be ready to request that the General Assembly vote on such a draft resolution.”

The Palestinians currently have observer entity status and it is believed next month would be a stepping-stone to seeking full member state.

Last September, during the build-up to the original statehood bid, the US threatened to use its veto to scupper a full statehood bid at the Security Council, stressing negotiations were the only route forward. In the end, however, the failure to garner the support from nine members of the Council meant there was no need for this.

An Israeli source was quoted by the Jerusalem Post as saying: “Refusing to negotiate and unilaterally trying to change the status is a direct and deliberate violation of the whole peace process up until now. Israel reserves the right to respond if it indeed occurs.”

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Rogge Branded ‘Hypocrite’ Over Munich Silence Row

Monday’s event at the Guildhall, to be attended by the IOC chief Jacques Rogge and the leaders of Britain’s three major political parties, will feature the lighting of candles in memory of the 11 Israeli coaches and athletes murdered at the Games in Germany 40 years ago. A guestlist that also includes London 2012 Chairman Lord Coe, Mayor Boris Johnson and the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Bernard Hogan-Howe will also help to ensure this is the most high-profile of the commemorations that have been held to mark the anniversary.

However, for many in attendance, including two of the widows of Munich victims, the failure of the IOC to include a minute’s silence for their husbands at last week’s Olympics opening ceremony – as they and tens of thousands of supporters around the globe demanded – will be at the forefront of their minds when Rogge gets up to speak at the Guildhall ceremony, which has been organised by National Olympic Committee of Israel, the Jewish Committee for the London Games and the Israeli Embassy.

Peter Mason, Director of the London Jewish Forum, said: “Without a doubt, many of those who will speak, including those who will represent the Jewish community will make clear the absolute need for the IOC to take it upon themselves in recognising and commemorating the events of 1972, at the same time expressing disappointment in the failure of the IOC to do so 40 years on.”

The inclusion of a section in Friday’s curtain-raiser that included images of loved ones lost by those in the stadium, but was also widely interpreted as a tribute to the victims of the 7/7 attacks, brought further questions about the IOC’s motives for dismissing calls for a Munich tribute, particularly as Rogge had earlier claimed it was not the right atmosphere “to remember such a tragic incident”.

Danny Ayalon, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, said: “The ceremony did include moments of silence and respect for those British citizens who died during terror attacks. We can only conclude that Rogge meant that the opening ceremony was not fit to remember a tragic incident involving Israelis.”

He added: “On Friday night, Rogge finally ran out of excuses. He said a minute silence was not part of the protocol, yet many previous Olympic Games Opening Ceremonies held a minute silence.

“It was claimed that it was too political, yet many political causes have been remembered during opening ceremonies. Finally, he said it was not an atmosphere fit to remember such a tragic incident, yet other tragic incidents were remembered. Rogge lost our respect and his ability to legitimately represent the Olympic ideal that all are equal in the family of nations. He was exposed as a hypocrite and someone led by political interests.”

The opening ceremony saw eight inspiring individuals carry the Olympic flag into the stadium in Stratford, prompting observers to suggest an alternative route for the IOC to honour the victims of Munich would have been to at least offer a spot to one of the widows. One of two Jews who were given that honour alongside UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and Doreen Lawrence was Sally Becker, a goodwill ambassador for Children of Peace who rescued some 170 children and their families during the Bosnian conflict and in 2006 distributed supplies to inhabitants of northern Israel afflicting by rocket attacks.

She told the Jewish News this week of how she said a silent prayer for the victims of Munich as she carried out her duties in front of an estimated television audience of one billion.

And the aid worker, dubbed the Angel of Mostar, added: “I felt very honoured to be chosen to carry the Olympic flag, the International symbol of a peaceful and better world. After years of battling with the UN and other agencies and having to justify my actions to the press, this was a great endorsement of my work. Nevertheless, had it been possible to give up my place to one of the widows of the athletes who died at Munich I would have.”

Last Friday, ahead of the opening ceremony, hundreds participated in commemorations in Trafalgar Square and at the Israeli Embassy. During the latter, that was broadcast online across the world, Ambassador Daniel Taub stated: “We are gathering here, together with thousands of people joining us through the internet, to remember the Olympics’ darkest moment. It was a direct assault on the Olympic ideal of peace and understanding through friendship, solidarity and fair play. And that is why this needs to be remembered publically, as a message that those ideals have not been forgotten.”

At the same time, crowds gathered at the famous square where thousands celebrated London being awarded the Games seven years ago and recited kaddish ahead of the minute’s silence. Ari Soffer, director of the British Israel Coalition, which organised the vigil, said: “It is shameful that the IOC has refused to hold just one minute of silence at any official Olympic event here in London.

“We are here today to remember the Israeli victims of this brutal attack, and to show that the Olympics must never again be allowed to be highjacked by violent murderers.”

In a sign of how far the campaign for a silence has spread, members of the Italian Olympic team observed a silence in the Olympic Village this week while the pilot on an Easyjet flight to Tel Aviv urged passengers to join the crew in a silent tribute at they passed over Munich.

Speaking ahead of the Guildhall event, which will be presented by actor Chaim Topol, David Cameron said: “This year’s London Olympics mark 40 years since one of the darkest days in the history of the Games. The murder in 1972 of 11 Israeli athletes was an appalling act of terrorism.

“It’s vital that this tragedy is properly commemorated, which is why a minute’s silence was observed at the athletes’ village on the Olympic Park. And that’s also why I want to pay my respects on behalf of the British people at the commemorative event at the Guildhall.”

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Anger over Clinton’s and Hague’s concern for Israeli democracy

During a closed meeting in Washington on Saturday, Clinton was reported to have told a group of Israeli and American policy makers of her concerns over recent developments in Israel, including a bill aimed at limiting foreign funding for political NGOs.

According to reports in the Israeli media, Clinton also spoke out against moves in the Israeli ultra-Orthodox community to enforce separate seating on buses for men and women and a group of IDF soldiers who refuse on religious grounds to listen to women singing.

Israeli politicians were particularly angered by Clinton’s reported claims that the seating issue reminded her of Rosa Parks, the black woman who fought against separate seating for blacks and whites in 1960s America, and that the soldiers’ decision was reminiscent of the situation in Iran.

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz was among those who refused to accept Clinton’s outburst, made at the Saban Forum, calling her comments “completely exaggerated. I don’t know many better democracies in the world,” Steinitz said of Israel, while admitting there is always a need to examine certain situations.
There is, from time to time, the need to fix things,” Steinitz added.

“The issue of exclusion of women, or separating women, or efforts to keep women from taking part in performances in the army or anywhere else, is completely unacceptable and needs to end.”

Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan was even stronger in his response, suggesting that Clinton should worry about her own country rather than commenting on affairs abroad. “Elected officials all over the world should first worry about their problems at home,” Erdan said. At the same time, Erdan noted that he felt it was “a shame” that women were separated from men on some buses.

“We are in the 21st century, and there is no place for discrimination of women in public transportation, in public performances, or in any other sphere,” Erdan said.

The bill limiting foreign funding for NGOs, which was passed by the cabinet last month and will soon come up in the Knesset, attracted widespread uproar among left-wing groups which believed it to be an attempt to curtail criticism of Israel as they receive much funding from abroad.

However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu already said some changes would be made to the bill before it became law, if it did pass through the Knesset, and there is a long way to go for it to complete its passage through Israeli parliament.

Apparently ignoring the elections currently being held in Egypt, Interior Minister Eli Yishai said: “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and I believe that everything we do here will be done according to the law and acceptable norms.”

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni, who attended Clinton’s speech in the American capital, said she believed the Secretary of State’s comments represented a growing view among the international community which could not be ignored.

“Friends and admirers of Israel from within and without are worried about processes that Israel is undergoing,” Livni said.

“This concern is coming from those who fight for us in the UN and against our detractors, and who act to preserve Israel’s military advantage in the area.”

Meanwhile, Hague this week expressed concern over proposed Israeli legislation that would restrict foreign funding to NGOs.

He said the proposals would “have a serious impact on projects funded from the UK and elsewhere to support universal rights and values”, which would undermine the democratic principles on which Israel was founded.

“We strongly call upon all involved to reconsider this move and urge the government to express its opposition.”

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‘I’ll be Israel’s friend even in bad times’

The party leader’s warm words came in a major address to MPs, peers and members of the party’s front bench at Labour Friends of Israel’s annual lunch on Tuesday. Miliband said: “We will be friends in good times and in bad, and friends who will agree and disagree sometimes”.

Concerns had been raised by supporters of Israel after Miliband’s keynote speech at the Labour conference last year, days after his election as leader.

In that address, he branded the interception of the Gaza flotilla as “so wrong” but failed to mention Hamas or rocket attacks on Israel. While Miliband had previously expressed his opposition to “blanket boycotts of goods from Israel”, the stance of some of his union backers raised inevitable questions about whether he would dilute his own position.

But this week he reiterated that there “should be no tolerance of boycotts. We are against boycotts and delegitimisation”.

Even before this week, he had taken steps to reassure the community, including claiming during a Jewish News interview in February that Labour would be as supportive of Israel under his leadership as it has been during the past decade. But a source close to the community leadership said: “This was Miliband’s warmest engagement with the community since becoming leader. It will assuage many of the concerns that have previously existed. These were the words of a genuinely critical friend of Israel who’s as genuine and sincere about his friendship as he is about his criticism.”

During the address, Miliband said that, 18 years after the Oslo Accords, he shared the “anger” of those who had lived for 10 years under a rocket barrage from Gaza. He stressed that his party backed a “two-state solution as the only way forward towards peace in the Middle East. We believe in a safe and secure Israel as a state for the Jewish people living side by side with a Palestinian state – but only through negotiations.”

But he defended his party’s call for Britain to support the recognition of a Palestinian state at the UN, saying that such a development would further the peace process.

Miliband also told his audience at the Royal Horticultural Hall – including the Chief Rabbi and Israeli ambassador – that he “understands the fears and frustrations” of those who saw settlement construction continuing amid a lack of progress in talks. Israel and the Palestinians, Miliband said, “have to make decisions that advance peace, not set it back”. He was applauded when he praised the work of Quartet envoy – and former Labour Prime Minister – Tony Blair.

Miliband also touched on his family’s history, saying that 61 years ago his grandmother had moved to Israel from Poland seeking a new life, and that he would “always be grateful to the state of Israel for giving her and my aunt refuge and nourishment. I want to put on record my thanks and admiration for what Israel has been able to do for my family.”

Jeremy Newmark, the CEO of the Jewish Leadership Council, said: “We welcome the commitment that under his leadership the Labour party will remain a strong and steadfast friend of Israel… Ed’s robust condemnation of the boycott movement was particularly significant.”

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Israel still keen to talk as UN debates statehood bid

During a visit to Israel on Monday, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta welcomed the move to accept the Quartet’s proposal. He said: “Real security comes only from a strong diplomatic effort alongside the maintaining of military strength. I want to emphasise that there is a need, and an opportunity, for bold action on both sides to move towards a negotiated two-state solution. There is no alternative to negotiations.”

The Quartet (the US, UN, EU and Russia) recommended that a “preparatory meeting” be held before 23 October. It said it then expects that an agreement should be reached “within a timeframe agreed to by the parties but not longer than the end of 2012″.

The Israelis admitted having concerns over some parts of the Quartet’s proposal, such as the separation of the issues of refugees and Jerusalem from borders and security.

However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed these issues can be discussed within the framework of negotiations. The Prime Minister‘s Office said: “Israel welcomes the Quartet’s call for direct negotiations between the parties without preconditions, as called for by both President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu. While Israel has some concerns, it will raise them at the appropriate time.”

Israel called on the Palestinian Authority to “do the same and to enter into direct negotiations without delay”.

Palestinian leaders said they would not be willing to sit down with their Israeli counterparts unless a building freeze is implemented in the West Bank, a move ruled out by Israeli officials. Israel imposed a partial 10-month moratorium on settlement expansion in 2009 and 2010. The Palestinians returned to negotiations in the final month of the freeze and then demanded another halt.

Leading Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat blamed Netanyahu for preventing talks, citing last week’s announcement of construction in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Gilo, which is beyond the 1967 Green Line. “The PA supports the Quartet’s call for resuming peace talks,” Erekat said. “But it’s Netanyahu who derailed the process.”

The Gilo announcement sparked what diplomats called a “full and frank exchange of views” between Netanyahu and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, one of the first EU leaders to come out against the Palestinians’ bid for statehood at the United Nations.

The UN Security Council is set to meet on Friday to further debate the Palestinian Authority‘s statehood bid in the wake of President Mahmoud Abbas’ application two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, there were concerns in the US and Israel over a decision by Congress to block more than $200million in economic aid to the PA. Panetta noted that President Obama opposed blocking the funds.

He said: “This is a critical time and it is not a time to withhold those funds.”

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UK to Abbas: start talking

After Abbas told the UN General Assembly “enough, enough, enough” to 63 years of “tragedy”, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged the Palestinian leader to launch talks immediately in New York and said he was ready to “move ahead” with US-backed parameters.

“I extend my hand, the hand of Israel in peace. I hope you will grasp that,” Netanyahu said. “If we genuinely want peace, let us meet in this building”.

Foreign Secretary William Hague urged an immediate resumption of talks. Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, he said: “Time is running out for a two-state solution. That is one thing everyone agreed on in all the discussions I had at the United Nations last week on the Middle East peace process.”

Stressing that “all sides bear responsibility for the impasse”, Hague added that there was growing disenchantment with the failed international efforts since Oslo. He wrote: “The UK deplores any attempt to delegitimise Israel, but friends of Israel should be concerned about its growing isolation in the international community. Settlement expansion, which is unilateral and illegal under international law, is a big factor in this.”

He noted that the UK had “advised against” the Palestinians’ application for statehood, “because while we support the principle of Palestinian statehood, we know that only a negotiated settlement can create a viable state. No resolution at the UN can substitute for the political will necessary if both sides are to come to the negotiating table”.

Meanwhile, at his annual Jewish new year reception that he hosts for the diplomatic corps, President Shimon Peres urged Abbas to quickly and quietly resume peace negotiations. “Let’s not waste time,” he said.

The president told the gathered diplomats that he felt “compelled to tell them that the current Palestinian leadership is the best we could have got. An opening is too high a priority. The problem is not who is right and who is wrong, but what is right and what is wrong.”

Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz described the Palestinian efforts as a “betrayal” of the peace process and warned Israel could be forced to cut off aid as a result. “It is up to us to think whether we take counter-measures and how to react to such a hostile move,” he said. “Until now, we co-operated with the PA to help them build their economy. Now if the PA wants to move forward alone, they might find themselves alone on the economic front as well.”

An Israeli Foreign Office official told the Jewish News, meanwhile, that Israel believed the diplomatic situation had changed since Friday’s speeches. He said: “Before last week the Palestinians believed they would be endorsed by the international community and the UN. Now they realise they don’t have it all their own way and there remains a significant push back on their attempts to avoid negotiations and use the UN as a rubber stamp.”

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Muddle East

Following a robustly pro-Israel address by US President Barack Obama, Nabil Sha’ath, a senior official in Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s delegation, said: “We will give some time to the Security Council to consider first our full membership request before heading for the General Assembly.”

However, chief negotiator Saeb Erekat exposed a conflict in the Palestinian camp when he told reporters, after Sha’ath’s statement, that Abbas had no plans for a delayed vote.

Sha’ath’s comments came after days of intense pressure on the Palestinians to hold back on their bid. America had already warned it would veto any Security Council vote. And President Obama was thanked by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after he told the Assembly that Israel deserved peace, security and normal relations with its neighbours. “There is no short cut to the end of a conflict that has endured for decades. Peace is hard work,” said the US President. Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the UN. Ultimately, it is Israelis and Palestinians who must live side-by-side. Ultimately, it is Israelis and Palestinians – not us – who must reach agreement on the issues that divide them.

“One year ago, I stood at this podium and called for an independent Palestine. I believed then – and I believe now – that the Palestinian people deserve a state of their own. But what I also said is that genuine peace can only be realised between Israelis and Palestinians themselves.”

Netanyahu had earlier flown to the UN convinced of the bid’s failure and futility, saying he would tell “Israel‘s truth”.

Sources told the Jewish News on Wednesday night that even if the Palestinians went to General Assembly – either now or at a later date – Britain still didn’t know how it would vote. They added that Whitehall, in concert with the rest of the EU, was hoping that the Palestinians would accept a watered-down version of statehood, in line with the Vatican’s observer status at the UN.

Netanyahu is due to address the General Assembly on Friday, after meeting US President Barack Obama on Wednesday and other world leaders the following day.
There were also attempts to persuade Abbas to meet the Israeli PM. Netanyahu, who reiterated his willingness to meet – reminding him that Jerusalem and Ramallah were only 10 minutes’ drive apart.

He urged “the chairman of the Palestinian Authority to launch direct negotiations in New York and continue them in Jerusalem and Ramallah. I am offering President Abbas the chance to launch peace negotiations instead of wasting time on futile unilateral steps.”

Ron Prosor, the former Israeli ambassador to Britain – who is now at the centre of the diplomatic dance as ambassador to the UN – told the Jewish News: “We are ready for talks without preconditions tomorrow morning.

“But after they take a unilateral step, they can’t expect Israel to react as if nothing has happened. There will be consequences.”

On Wednesday, Abbas held out hope for a last-minute climb-down when his spokesman said direct talks could be possible if Israel halted settlement building and agreed to discuss the 1967 lines.

But while Whitehall dithered, Ramallah wavered and Jerusalem warned, Labour urged the UK government to support the Palestinians’ bid for statehood. “The case made by the Palestinians for recognition as a state is strong,” a statement said.

This was criticised by Board of Deputy’s president Vivien Wineman and the Jewish Leadership Council‘s chairman, Mick Davis, who wrote to Douglas Alexander, Labour’s foreign affairs spokesman to express “profound disappointment” at Labour’s position.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, hundreds of protesters for and against the Palestinians’ UN bid were expected to gather in Westminster.

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