SOPOT, Poland — EU foreign ministers on Saturday moved to ease a threat of renewed Middle East tension triggered by a Palestinian bid for full United Nations membership, scheduled less than three weeks away.
Speaking at the close of two-day talks in this Polish seaside resort, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said the European Union hoped "to avoid what could turn out to be a failure for everyone in September" at the United Nations General Assembly.
Weeks before the Palestinians are to formally submit a request for UN membership, the bloc's 27 ministers devoted substantial time debating an issue hotly criticised by many, notably Israel and the United States.
Split between themselves on the move, EU ministers urged both Israel and the Palestinians to return to direct peace talks while offering to take a lead role in hammering out a solution acceptable to all sides.
"Our idea is to work to find the grounds for a resolution that would be acceptable to the different parties," Juppe said. "It is possible to find such a balance."
The Palestinian proposal, to be formally detailed in the coming days by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, could prove a failure for Israel, the Palestinians and the United States, Juppe said.
Should the Palestinians receive widespread backing "Israel would be isolated", the Palestinians "would face a poor tomorrow" after losing key funding, and Washington too "face isolation", he warned.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, whose country opposes the Palestinian initiative, said separately that it was key to "try to influence different parties to act constructively".
Europe stands divided on the question, with the Czech Republic, Italy and the Netherlands also opposed but Spain pledging to vote in favour, on or around September 20, when world leaders gather in New York for the 66th session of the General Assembly.
The idea has grown from frustration over the stalemate in peace talks with Israel, on hold since last September due to an intractable dispute over Jewish settlement building.
Despite the fast-approaching deadline, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton insisted that a return to the talks table remained a possibility.
"We believe that we need to have a negotiated settlement as quickly as possible and that anything that can help that process is good," she said.
As Israel's leading economic partner and the Palestinians' leading donor, Ashton urged the EU to remain united on the issue while insisting there could be no common position, other than the need for a resumption of peace talks, until the Palestinians issued further details on the push.
"There is no resolution before the UN yet," she said. "So what we were doing in our discussion is working through the European position on getting talks moving."
Austria is suggesting the EU work on its own resolution, Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger said.
"Of course we must also see what the Palestinians are really requesting, whether they are demanding recognition by the Security Council or whether they'll go to the General Assembly, for a different sort of status," he added.
"We must first clarify matters with them."
Palestinians expect "more than 150" of the 192 UN member countries to endorse full Palestinian membership.
But this would fall short of the number needed to ratify an application, which must be approved by the UN Security Council where Washington has pledged to use its veto against the initiative.
The General Assembly however could raise the Palestinians' standing at the UN from its current observer status as an organisation to that of a non-member state, like the Vatican.
If approved by two-thirds of the General Assembly, it would allow the Palestinians for instance to gain full membership of UN agencies such as WHO, UNESCO or UNICEF.
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