The U.N. Security Council late Friday launched a debate on a resolution condemning continued Jewish settlement building, which has pitted Palestinian leaders against the United States.
The debate went ahead despite U.S. pressure on Palestinian leadership to withdraw the draft resolution, which condemns the settlements and calls on the U.N. to halt them.
President Mahmoud Abbas earlier on Friday turned down a U.S. proposal aimed at luring the Palestinians into dropping support for a U.N. Security Council vote against Israeli illegal settlements.
President Barack Obama opposes the idea, but the Palestinians are still calling for a Security Council vote Friday on the U.N. resolution.
The United States opposes new settlements, which it calls "illegitimate" and an impediment to peace between Israel and the Palestinians. But the Obama administration doesn't want the issue taken up by the U.N.'s most powerful body, arguing it will only complicate efforts to resume stalled Israeli-Palestinian negotiations aimed at a final peace settlement and creation of a Palestinian state.
The Palestinians have said repeatedly that they will not resume peace talks until Israel halts settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which it wants as its capital. Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed just weeks after they restarted in September because Israel ended a 10-month moratorium on settlement construction.
The Security Council scheduled a meeting on the Palestinian question at 3 p.m. local time Friday.
The vote puts Obama in a difficult position, both internationally and domestically.
A U.S. veto of the resolution - which has about 130 co-sponsors - would anger Arab nations and much of the rest of the world at a time of growing street protests in the Mideast, fueled by hopes for democracy and human rights which the Obama administration supports.
An abstention would anger the Israelis, the closest U.S. ally in the region, as well as Democratic and Republican supporters of Israel in the U.S. Congress.
Egypt and Tunisia
Obama and Abbas spoke by telephone for 50 minutes on Thursday, according to Palestinian Authority spokesman Nabil Aburdeneh. They discussed the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia and the resolution on settlements, he said.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki said Obama is looking for a compromise to avert an American veto of the resolution, but a well-informed Arab diplomat said late Thursday that the vote was still scheduled for Friday. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday that the Security Council vote would be counterproductive.
"We have consistently over many years said that the United Nations Security Council and resolutions that would come before the Security Council are not the right vehicle to advance that goal," she said at a news conference in Washington after a briefing with senators.
"We are working with our partners in the Security Council, with our friends in the region, to find a consensus way forward that is consistent with our overall approach," she said. "Our goal is absolutely the same as it always has been ... the Palestinians having a state of their own to realize the aspirations of the Palestinian people, Israel with secure borders and normalized relations with all of their neighbors."
On Wednesday, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, proposed a weaker Security Council presidential statement instead of a legally binding resolution and several other measures but the Palestinians rejected the offer. Diplomats said a new version of the U.S. statement was put forward Thursday, but apparently the Palestinians still weren't satisfied.
Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. observer who announced Friday's vote after a meeting late Wednesday of the 22-member Arab group, reiterated that settlement expansion is the "main obstacle" to the resumption of peace negotiations and said construction must stop.
We have consistently over many years said that the United Nations Security Council and resolutions that would come before the Security Council are not the right vehicle to advance that goal
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton