LONDON — The United States finds itself caught between growing European pressure to do more to advance Middle East peace and Washington’s traditional support for Israel, which is in a heated election campaign and reluctant to make unilateral concessions.
That dynamic was at the center of Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Rome and Paris on Monday. Amid rising European frustration with the collapse of the peace process, the Palestinian Authority announced Sunday that it would press for a United Nations Security Council resolution this week setting a time frame for a full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and East Jerusalem and for recognition of Palestine as a state.
At the same time, France, Germany and Britain were busy drafting a resolution that would call for an immediate resumption of peace talks, with a two-year deadline, to lead to a sovereign Palestine while also setting out “parameters for negotiations,” United Nations diplomats said. France told Security Council members on Monday that it was ready to circulate a draft text for negotiations.
Secretary of State John Kerry met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel in Rome on Monday. Mr. Netanyahu denounced a plan by Palestinian officials to submit a draft resolution to the United Nations Security Council that would set a two-year deadline to ending the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Credit Israeli Government/European Pressphoto Agency
Sweden has already recognized Palestine as a state, various European legislatures have urged their governments to do the same, and the European Parliament is expected to vote on a nonbinding resolution recognizing Palestine on Wednesday.
Hoping to find a way to redirect those efforts, Mr. Kerry spent Monday meeting Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and European foreign ministers. He is scheduled to visit London on Tuesday to see Palestinian negotiators and the leader of the Arab League, Nabil el-Araby, on what has been a hastily organized trip. Mr. Kerry may find help from the Jordanians, who would have to put forward a Security Council resolution for the Palestinians and have said they are not yet committed to doing so this week.
On Sunday evening, even before meeting Mr. Kerry, the Palestinians announced their plan to press for a vote on their resolution at the Security Council as early as Wednesday. The move seemed an effort to pressure the United States either to veto the resolution or to come up with language, in any French-sponsored resolution, that is closer to the Palestinian position.
But with the announcement, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, was also responding to internal politics after the death last week at an anti-settlement demonstration in the West Bank of a Palestinian minister, Ziad Abu Ein, who was in an altercation with Israeli forces. The Palestinians have put the blame for his death on Israel, which says he died from a stress-related heart attack.
Ghassan Khatib, a former Palestinian spokesman and vice president of Birzeit University, said the announcement had “resulted from increased public pressure, because of Ziad Abu Ein and an accumulation of many things.”
But the move, he said, “may also be a way to influence the debate that is taking place in Europe and to place pressure on Kerry, who is negotiating with the Europeans.”
The French, with significant European support, a senior European diplomat said, believe that there is a “window of opportunity” before the Israeli elections in mid-March to pass a resolution pressing for a rapid resumption of peace talks.
Washington would prefer to wait until the Israeli elections are over, and Israel is pressing the United States to veto any Security Council action and use its diplomatic might to try to stall individual European efforts.
More pressure on Israel could help Mr. Netanyahu, the Americans have argued to the Europeans, who see Mr. Netanyahu as an obstacle toward negotiations. There is also the possibility that Mr. Netanyahu could lose the election, and that a new Israeli government might be more receptive to talks. Failing that, a resolution without a hard deadline could get American support and forestall the need for a veto.
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Talks are continuing on whether to include a specific mention of “a Jewish state,” as the original 1947 General Assembly resolution did.
“Our American friends are cautiously, under certain conditions with certain red lines, ready to engage,” said one diplomat at the Security Council, speaking anonymously in accordance with diplomatic protocol. “There is a narrow path right now to get a consensus resolution.”
A veto now might also be seen as intervention in Israeli politics. It would also be criticized by the Palestinians and by the Arab League, a number of whose member states are part of the American-led coalition against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Mr. Netanyahu was scathing on Monday, vowing, “We will not accept attempts to dictate to us unilateral moves on a limited timetable.” He added, “We will rebuff any attempt that would put this terrorism inside our home, inside the state of Israel.”
The effort to press for new peace talks and to support a two-state solution before it is somehow too late is impelling France, in particular, French diplomats say.
The French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, will have his own meeting with the Palestinian and Arab League representatives in Paris, which his spokesman described on Monday as “part of France’s efforts to relaunch, on a credible basis and as swiftly as possible, the peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians” and “to offer the parties a concrete political horizon.”
It was indicative of the pressures building up at the United Nations that Robert Serry, the United Nations special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, briefed the Security Council on Monday to urge a quick resumption of peace talks.
He called the nonbinding European resolutions in favor of a Palestinian state “significant developments that serve to highlight growing impatience at the continued lack of real progress in achieving a two-state solution” and noted that “governments are under increased public pressure to promote an end to the conflict once and for all.”
Mr. Serry said that Security Council resolutions could not replace Israeli-Palestinian talks, but that he hoped “Security Council action will generate constructive momentum.”
Still, the chances of a resolution coming to a vote before the end of the year appear slim. Jordan, which currently represents the Arab countries on the Council, has not said whether or when it plans to bring it up for a vote.
The Palestinians would need nine of the 15 votes in the current Security Council to pass the resolution, which would force the United States, as one of the permanent members, to decide whether or not to veto it. The Palestinians may have better luck after Jan. 1, when Malaysia, Spain and Venezuela become members of the Council.