ROME – The Palestinian leadership on Sunday said it planned to submit a resolution to the UN Security Council setting a two-year deadline for Israel to end its occupation, as US Secretary of State John Kerry launched a flurry of European meetings to revive the stalled peace process.
Washington's diplomatic manoeuvring comes amid a European-led drive towards a recognition of Palestinian statehood at the United Nations.
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 now seeking to learn more about the European position.
Seizing the momentum, a senior Palestinian official said they would present a draft UN resolution in coming days on ending the Israeli occupation by late 2016.
"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 said after a meeting in Ramallah.
The Israeli foreign ministry declined to comment ahead of Monday's meeting in Rome between Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Kerry kicked off his trip with three hours of talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Rome late Sunday which "focused primarily on recent developments in the Middle East, including about possible action at the UN Security Council," a senior State Department official said.
"I believe the Middle East issue is crucial for making sure that we don't allow the situation to degrade further," Lavrov said as he met with Kerry in the US ambassador's residence in Rome.
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 amid a slew of attacks.
After Netanyahu called snap elections in March, some Europeans have pointed to a narrow window of opportunity to push a Palestinian 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, which would have the backing of many nations.
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.
"We all want to keep open the hope of a two-state solution and we all want to prevent... an escalation of the violence on the ground."
In a hastily-arranged pre-Christmas diplomatic whirlwind, the top US diplomat will also meet for a few hours late Monday in Paris with French, German and British foreign ministers and the new EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.
He will then fly to London to meet with the chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat and the secretary general of the Arab League on Tuesday.
Jordan last month circulated a draft Palestinian text setting November 2016 as a deadline for the end of the Israeli occupation.
But the text ran into opposition from the United States because it set a two-year timetable for the withdrawal of the Israeli army from the West Bank.
"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.
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.
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 with a view to achieving a two-state solution by which Israel and a Palestinian state would co-exist.
But the US official said there did not yet appear to be any European agreement on a draft resolution.
"There's a draft, a paper, that the French floated around, but it by no means represents a consensus European position," the official said.— AFP