Palestinians push UN bid as Kerry meets Netanyahu
US Secretary of State John Kerry was Monday to meet the Israeli prime minister two days before Palestinians push for a draft UN resolution to end the Israeli occupation.
Ahead of his flight to Rome, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Israel's army radio on Monday that he rejected any Palestinian attempt to set an ultimatum for Israel to end its occupation of their lands through a UN Security Council resolution.
"We will not accept attempts to impose unilateral measures upon us by a set date, at a time when radical Islam is spreading throughout the world," Netanyahu said.
Amid a high-stakes diplomatic drive by Kerry, the Palestinians upped the ante late Sunday by revealing in a surprise move they would put the draft text before the UN Security Council on Wednesday.
It would set a two-year deadline for Israeli troops to withdraw from the West Bank - a timetable which the US has already opposed as complicating the stalled peace negotiations.
"The Palestinian leadership took a decision to go to the Security Council next Wednesday to vote on their project to end the occupation," senior Palestine Liberation Organisation member Wassel Abu Yussef told AFP Sunday after a meeting in Ramallah.
Kerry arrived in Rome Sunday where he met for more than three hours with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov seeking to head off the looming UN meeting.
Lavrov opened the talks with a call for Russia and the US to work together to prevent further deterioration of the situation in the Middle East.
Last month, Jordan circulated a draft Palestinian text setting November 2016 as a deadline for the end of the Israeli occupation.
"That's not the way I think that we would look at handling a very complicated security negotiation by mandating a deadline of two years," the State Department official said, asking not to be identified.
France stepped in last month to try to cobble together along with Britain and Germany a resolution that would win consensus at the 15-member council.
The new text would call for a return to negotiations aimed at achieving a two-state solution by which Israel and a Palestinian state would co-exist.
In the past, the US has consistently used its power of veto at the UN to block moves it sees as anti-Israel. But US officials said Kerry was seeking to learn more about the European position, adding there did not appear to be a European consensus on any resolution.
Kerry and Lavrov "agreed to continue working closely together on this issue and stressed the importance of all sides taking steps to reduce tensions," a State Department official said.
Since the collapse of Kerry's peace bid in April and the 50-day war in the Gaza Strip in the summer, there has been growing international concern about rising Israeli-Palestinian tensions.
"I believe the Middle East issue is crucial for making sure that we don't allow the situation to degrade further," Lavrov said.
After Netanyahu called snap elections in March, some Europeans have pointed to a narrow window of opportunity to push a resolution at the UN Security Council.
Washington has long opposed unilateral Palestinian moves to win recognition for a state of Palestine at the UN.
But US officials said they drew a distinction between a unilateral step, and an effort to draw up a multilateral resolution at the Security Council and have not decided yet whether to back or veto any such resolution.
There is a growing US recognition too of European impatience with the current status quo, as several European parliaments in recent weeks have called on their governments to recognise a state of Palestine.
"Our overall goal here is to hear from and engage with other stakeholders... to hear their views and, to the best of our ability, work towards a common path forward," a State Department official said.
Kerry will fly from Rome to Paris for a few hours late Monday to meet with French, German and British foreign ministers and the new EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.
He will then travel to London to meet with the chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat and the secretary general of the Arab League on Tuesday.
Netanyahu on Sunday rejected all talk of withdrawing from east Jerusalem and the West Bank within two years.
Pulling out now would bring "Islamic extremists to the suburbs of Tel Aviv and to the heart of Jerusalem," Netanyahu said.