Palestinians call for EU to back independence
• Frustration at impasse on 'two-state project'
• Israel warns of retaliation over any unilateral move
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. Photograph: Sebastian Scheiner/AP
Palestinians have formally asked the European Union to urge the UN security council to recognise a fully independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in response to the current impasse in peace negotiations with Israel.
Saeb Erakat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, confirmed that the request to the EU was made on Monday as Israeli ministers repeated warnings that any unilateral moves would trigger counter-measures that could include the annexation of more of the occupied West Bank.
Erakat, speaking in Ramallah, said Israel had for 18 years continued to "impose facts on the ground by stealing Palestinian lands and building settlements and barriers aiming to finish off the two-state project". He added: "We will seek the support of all members of the international community."
EU foreign ministers are due to discuss the issue in Brussels today but are unlikely to reach any decision. Diplomats said there was no question of EU backing for a unilateral declaration of independence by the Palestinians, which would be likely to be vetoed by Washington. US senators visiting Jerusalem also warned that such an move would be a non-starter.
But Erakat made clear that the Palestinians were seeking a security council resolution spelling out the parameters for resolving the conflict — crucially without waiting for Israel to negotiate and without Israeli consent. A key element would be that a Palestinian state must include the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital, within the 1967 borders in line with existing UN resolutions.
This move, supported by the Arab League, reflects mounting Palestinian frustration that negotiations with Israel have reached a dead end due to the refusal of Binyamin Netanyahu, the Likud prime minister, to agree to a freeze on settlement activity, as Barack Obama had been demanding until recently when he appeared to back-pedal.
Analysts say the UN move may also be intended to find a way for Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, to remain in office. Abbas, said to be angry and frustrated, announced last week that he would not stand for re-election, though the elections originally scheduled for January have now been postponed.
The Palestinians first declared independence unilaterally in November 1988, seeking to build on the achievements of the first intifada and Jordan's formal disengagement from the West Bank. That dramatic declaration was recognised by dozens of countries but never implemented on the ground. It was superseded by the Israeli-PLO Oslo agreement in 1993, though the negotiations that began then have never been completed. Israeli settlement activity has also continued unabated since.
In 2005 Israel disengaged unilaterally from the Gaza Strip without any agreement with the Palestinians. The area was later taken over by the Islamist movement Hamas, which is at odds with Abbas's western-backed Palestinian Authority.
Hamas said on Monday that it opposed diplomatic moves at the UN, with spokesman Fawzi Barhoum calling Abbas's approach a sign of desperation. "It's clear that this was a reaction by the Palestinian Authority after running out of options after two decades of negotiations," he said. Palestinians, added Hamas official Salah Bardwil, should focus on their own "ability to liberate the land".
Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's foreign minister, warned: "Any unilateral movement will be countered by a unilateral move on our part." Another minister said Israel could respond by annexing some settlements.
Israel annexed East Jerusalem immediately after the 1967 war, while expanding the city's boundaries, but has always agreed in principle that it would negotiate over the West Bank. Annexation would close off that option.
US senator Joseph Lieberman said "an essentially unilateral" declaration of statehood would not move the peace process forward. "I hope and presume that the US would veto such a move if it ever came to the security council," he said.
* Guardian News and Media Limited 2009