US urges caution as Palestinians bid for UN vote

The United States called for caution on Tuesday as Palestinians seek to push their hopes for statehood to the top of the UN agenda ahead of Israeli elections.

Top US diplomat John Kerry said nothing should be allowed to get in the way of preparations for the March polls, as the Palestinians threaten to submit a draft text Wednesday to the UN Security Council.

Speaking to reporters just before he met chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat in London, Kerry said it was “imperative” to help lower tensions.

“Many of us share a deep sense of urgency about this,” the US secretary of state told a press conference during a whirlwind trip to Europe.

“But we’re also very mindful that we have to carefully calibrate any steps that are taken for this difficult moment in the region,” he said.

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.

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.

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”.

He later met Erakat and Arab League secretary general Nabil al-Arabi to discuss options.

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,” Kerry added.

“We want to find the most constructive way of doing something that… 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.