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France to back Palestinians at UN

Critics contend move endangers Mideast process

PARIS — France will vote in favor of the Palestinians’ request to heighten their profile at the United Nations, its foreign minister told Parliament on Tuesday, embracing a move that Israel and the United States oppose.

The support of France, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, is the most significant boost to date for the Palestinians’ hopes to be granted nonmember observer status and thus greater international recognition. Russia and China, two other permanent members, have also thrown their support behind the Palestinian bid.

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The French support appeared calculated to strengthen the position of the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, whose party governs the West Bank, after fighting with Israel in the Gaza Strip this month that left Hamas, the Islamic militant organization that oversees Gaza, ascendant.

The announcement is a blow to Israel, whose diplomats have been working feverishly to try to ensure what they call a ‘‘moral majority’’ in the UN vote, meaning that even if a majority of nations vote in favor of the Palestinian bid, the major world powers would not.

Speaking before the lower house of Parliament, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said, ‘‘Next Thursday or Friday, when the question is asked, France will reply, ‘Yes.’’’

Muhammad Shtayyeh, the Palestinian special envoy for the UN bid, issued a statement from New York saying: ‘‘We are very thankful to France and we call upon other European governments to announce their support for Palestinian freedom. This is long overdue.’’

The two other permanent members of the Security Council are the United States and Britain.

In a statement last week, the British foreign secretary, William Hague, said the Palestinian bid jeopardized the Mideast peace process.

‘‘While there is any chance of achieving a return to talks in the coming months,’’ he said, ‘‘we continue to advise President Abbas against attempts to win Palestinian observer state status at the United Nations through a vote in the UN General Assembly. We judge that this would make it harder to secure a return to negotiations, and could have very serious consequences for the Palestinian Authority.’’

Ilana Stein, a spokeswoman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said Israel was ‘‘not surprised’’ by the French declaration, adding, ‘‘Of course we remain in our opinion that this is a very harmful initiative by the Palestinians; our opinion has not changed.’’

The draft resolution ‘‘reaffirms the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to independence in their state of Palestine on the basis of the pre-1967 borders,’’ according to a version that circulated earlier this month.

It also expresses ‘‘the urgent need for the resumption and acceleration of negotiations within the Middle East peace process’’ and states that the permanent borders of a Palestinian state are ‘‘to be determined in final status negotiations.’’

The Palestinians believe that broader recognition of its UN presence is a crucial step to a two-state solution with Israel, given the absence of any other progress.

But the Palestinians have become more vague about other issues, stating in a recent official document that enhanced status would ‘‘enable Palestine to better use the UN and other international forums to advance its just cause for freedom and independence’’ and help the Palestinians ‘‘to reinforce the international position that does not recognize Israel’s occupation and practices of colonization and annexation as legitimate.’’

The Israelis are concerned that the Palestinians could use enhanced status to try to join other international bodies, like the International Criminal Court, where they could pursue legal claims against Israel.

Israeli officials also view the Palestinian bid for enhanced status as a non-member state as a violation of previous accords.

Just more than a year ago, France voted in favor of full Palestinian membership in UNESCO, despite a mandated cutoff of US funds to the organization.

On Tuesday, Fabius called France’s position a point of ‘‘coherence,’’ saying, ‘‘The constant position of France has been to recognize the Palestinian state.’’

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