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US trying to avert Palestinian statehood showdown

US opposes what it calls 'unilateral' moves to achieve Palestinian statehood, which it says will only come through a negotiated deal
US Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday he hopes to head off a UN showdown over Palestinian statehood (AFP)

BOGOTA, Colombia - US Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday he hoped to head off an end-of-year showdown at the United Nations over Palestinian statehood in meetings next week in Europe.

"There are a lot of different folks pushing in different directions out there, and the question is can we all pull in the same direction," Kerry told reporters during a visit to Colombia.

The Palestinians are carrying out a major campaign aiming to submit to the UN Security Council a draft resolution setting out a two- or three-year timetable for an end to Israeli occupation.

They have said they would like to see the text submitted before the end of the year, prompting a surprise meeting next Monday in Rome between Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"What we're trying to do is figure out what makes sense," Kerry told reporters in Bogota.

"We're trying to figure out a way to help defuse the tensions and reduce the potential for more conflict, and we're exploring various possibilities to that end, which is why I'm also meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu."

The Palestinians' UN push comes amid tensions in the region and as a wave of European countries have seen parliamentary votes urging their governments to recognise a state of Palestine.

The Portuguese parliament meanwhile became the latest to press for recognition of Palestinian statehood "in coordination with the European Union," adding that the government should "choose the moment best suited" for the decision.

France's upper house voted Thursday to urge its government to recognise Palestine hard on the heels of a similar motion in the Irish parliament on Wednesday.

Lawmakers in Britain and Spain have already passed their own motions and Sweden has gone even further, officially recognising Palestine as a state, in a move that prompted a furious Israel to recall its ambassador.

Kerry led a nine-month peace bid that collapsed in acrimony in April, and Washington has long opposed what it calls "unilateral" moves to achieve statehood, which it says will only come through a negotiated deal.

Demands for 'action'

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Washington's position had not changed, and stressed there was no draft resolution yet.

"But the fact is there are a number of countries out there that want to see action at the UN that are pushing for that," Psaki told reporters.

"There are a number of countries out there who have taken their own action, even non-binding action. And so this is an appropriate time to have the discussions."

Kerry suggested that he may be traveling on from Rome to other European capitals, but did not specify details.

On the margins of UN climate talks in Lima on Thursday, the top US diplomat had discussed the tensions in the Middle East with his French counterpart Laurent Fabius. France is believed to be among those looking to craft a UN resolution.

And on Friday, Kerry telephoned Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to discuss "recent developments" in Israel, the West Bank, Jerusalem and the region, along with initiatives at the United Nations, Psaki said.

Russia and the United States both hold veto power at the UN Security Council.

Kerry also phoned Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas to discuss the situation in the Middle East, a senior state department official said.

The official said Kerry had "expressed his condolences" over the death of Ziad Abu Ein, a Palestinian official who died Wednesday after being struck in the chest during a confrontation with Israeli soldiers.

The incident has triggered protests and clashes in the occupied territories, as the Palestinian leadership has blamed Israel for "killing" the 55-year-old official.

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