Hesitant Britain waits for Palestine verdict

By politics.co.uk staff

Britain continued to hesitate yesterday in the face of increasingly frantic scenes at the UN, where delegates are preparing for the climax of the Palestinian statehood bid.

The Palestinians presented a formal request to UN chief Ban Ki-moon for UN membership for a Palestinian state later today.

Shortly afterwards, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas gave a passionate address to member states, while thousands watched on open-air screens in Ramallah.

Even minutes before the speech, British foreign secretary William Hague refused to say how Britain would respond to the bid.

The British government is under intense pressure from the US to abstain from any vote. President Barack Obama has pledged to veto any statehood bid at the security council, effectively making it impossible.

Non-member status could still be secured through a majority vote in the general assembly, however.

The Independent reported this morning that a rift has developed between French and British teams at the UN after David Cameron failed to back Nicolas Sarkozy's compromise bid, which would have granted Palestine 'non-member' status at the general assembly.

The US is reluctant to veto the motion, fearing a violent reaction in the Arab world.

British teams insist the precise text of the resolution is still unclear and that they will only come to a position once it has been presented.

President Abbas is expected to accept that any vote be put on hold while peace talks between the two parties continue.

Some are disappointed that the move will prevent an immediate showdown at the UN, but diplomats are hugely impressed with what the Palestinian leader has achieved.

Many believe the events of this week has served to weaken America's monopoly on the peace process and drag it closer to the international forum, where there is considerably more sympathy with the Palestinian position than in the US.