New York: The Obama administration insisted Monday there was still time to avert a divisive showdown over Palestinian statehood, ignoring President Mahmoud Abbas` defiant pledge to take his government`s case to the United Nations and reaching out to Western allies in the hopes of a last-ditch compromise.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the US was engaged in "extremely intensive" diplomacy with Israel, the Palestinians and the other governments gathered in New York for the annual UN General Assembly meeting. A statement from the US and other key Mideast peace negotiators on a possible path forward appeared to be starting to take shape, officials said.
Abbas said he was under "tremendous pressure" to drop his bid, which the US and Israel see as counterproductive to resuming moribund Middle East peace efforts. But even as international diplomats were meeting across New York, no clear alternative path had emerged that might advance peace talks.
"We continue to believe and are pressing the point that the only way to a two-state solution, which is what we support and want to see happen, is through negotiations," Clinton told reporters at a New York hotel as she was about to start a meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba.
"No matter what does or doesn`t happen this week, it will not produce the kind of result that everyone is hoping for," she said.
Clinton said the week was still young and there were still several days to find a compromise. The US and Europe have been trying to find a formula that would pave the way for direct Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, while addressing the Palestinian frustration with the lack of progress over the past year.
Only 12 months ago, President Barack Obama said he hoped to welcome Palestine as the newest UN member at this year`s global gathering. But the Palestinian decision to go the United Nations without agreement with Israel caused Washington to work against the plan and promise to veto it in the UN Security Council.
Obama, who arrived in New York on Monday afternoon, was scheduled to meet later in the week with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, though there were no immediate plans for the president to meet Abbas.
White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said the US and international partners continue to be in touch with the Palestinians "at all levels." Several ideas for restarting peace talks have been discussed, he said, without going into detail.
Earlier Monday, Clinton asked key Muslim ally Turkey not to allow its rift with Israel to grow wider as the two US allies, and formerly close regional partners, have yet to resolve the tensions stemming from last year`s deadly Israeli raid on a Turkish aid flotilla trying to reach the Gaza Strip.
Later, she tried to sway a reluctant Russia to join the US-led effort to press the Palestinians into an agreement that would lead to talks with Israel resuming. Russia, along with the US, European Union and UN , is a member of the Quartet of Mideast peace mediators, but it has said that it could support the Palestinian request.
Quartet envoys met for the second time in two days in New York, trying to craft a way forward that would be enough to persuade the Palestinians to drop their bid and have enough caveats for Israel to get its support. Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov agreed at their meeting that the envoys should meet again Tuesday, officials said.
Netanyahu, who arrives in New York on Wednesday, offered to meet Abbas later this week and restart negotiations. Yet he gave no details and his statement made no mention of issues such as settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem that Palestinians cite as long-standing hindrances to the peace effort.
To address the Palestinian concerns, Western officials have discussed the possibility of including some timeframes, however vague, in any statement put out by the Quartet, officials said. These would focus on the restart of Israeli-Palestinian talks and signs of tangible progress once negotiations begin.
A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive diplomatic work, said progress was being made on a joint statement that would include a modest upgrade to Palestinian status at the UN , address Israel`s demand that it be recognized as a Jewish state, and set a broad timeline for renewed negotiations.
The timeframe wouldn`t be a deadline, as such, but would be aimed at addressing the Palestinian desire to see quick action. The offer would come with an unchanged message that Washington would veto the Palestinian bid at the Security Council for UN recognition and membership, but at the very least it would represent a dignity-saving compromise for Abbas` US-backed government.
Clinton reinforced the US stance Monday.
"Everyone knows our position and obviously our goal is a two-state solution," she said. "That`s what we`re going to keep working toward."