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Diplomatic deals in play to avert Palestinian showdown at U.N.

By Elise Labott, CNN Senior State Department Producer
September 21, 2011 -- Updated 0943 GMT (1743 HKT)
U.S. President Obama will meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, pictured, on Wednesday.
U.S. President Obama will meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, pictured, on Wednesday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Israeli defense minister praises Obama's peace process approach
  • Palestinian Authority president plans to apply for Palestinian statehood Friday
  • President Obama and President Abbas to meet Wednesday, top U.S. official says
  • U.S. is promising to veto Palestinian statehood in the U.N. Security Council

United Nations (CNN) -- As the international community works on a package of initiatives to avoid a diplomatic showdown over Palestinian statehood at the U.N. Security Council this week, the presidents of the United States and the Palestinian Authority will meet to discuss the issue, a senior U.S. official told CNN.

President Barack Obama and President Mahmoud Abbas will meet Wednesday in New York in an effort to find a way around a showdown, the senior U.S. official said late Tuesday afternoon.

While there are a number of ideas in play, senior U.S., European, Israeli and Palestinian officials have told CNN they center around Abbas delivering a letter to the Security Council seeking full Palestinian statehood, but not forcing a council vote.

The Security Council letter would be paired with a statement by the Mideast Quartet laying out the terms of reference to relaunch peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians, the officials said. The quartet is made up of the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and Russia.

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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov Monday night in an effort to get Russian to buy into the plan.

Tuesday night, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak praised Obama's approach to the peace process, telling CNN interviewer Piers Morgan that the U.S. president "is friendly to Israel, especially in security-related issues," and "is also trying, to the best of my judgment, to be even-handed with the Palestinians."

Quartet envoys met for a third day Tuesday afternoon to work on the text. The core elements include a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders with agreed upon swaps, recognition of two states for two peoples -- the Palestinians and the Jewish people -- and a time line for a peace deal, diplomats said.

The officials said a package deal could enable Abbas to claim victory by going to the Security Council, but would not force a confrontation with the United States, which has promised to veto any statehood resolution which comes before the council.

"Just because he sends a letter to the council doesn't mean there has to be a vote," one senior European diplomat said. "The message we get from the Palestinians is that they definitely want to find a diplomatic solution."

A senior Palestinian official confirmed the idea was being seriously considered as an option that would allow Abbas to make good on his promise to go to the Security Council, but would also help boost efforts to relaunch negotiations.

"It actually is a good idea because it is like a Damocles hanging over our heads," one senior U.S. official said. "It creates an urgency to start negotiations."

Another idea Palestinians are considering is for Abbas to pair the Security Council letter with a bid at the U.N. General Assembly, where it is expected to have overwhelming support.

A "yes" vote in the General Assembly -- where only a majority vote would be needed -- could afford Palestinians with the status of "permanent observer state," similar to the position the Vatican currently holds.

A vote in their favor would be all but assured, meaning they could pursue legal actions against Israel, though analysts suggest that an elevated status could prematurely raise expectations for change in the region.

Palestinians' current status is "permanent observer entity." Permanent observers can speak in the General Assembly but not vote.

The Palestinian official said that while Abbas is committed to bringing the Palestinian bid for statehood before the Security Council, he is leaving the door open to compromise.

"We don't need to see a vote right away," the official said. He added that while an immediate vote may not be necessary, Abbas was not interested in postponing the vote as a "delaying tactic," but rather to give negotiations a chance.

"We see this as the beginning of a process," the official said.

Even senior Israeli officials were warm to the idea, saying that while they were not thrilled with Abbas going to the Security Council at all, avoiding a vote and preventing the Palestinians from unilaterally gaining statehood through the U.N. system was the main priority.

"From our side, I think we could accept it," one senior official said. The official said submitting the letter without a vote would give the parties time to begin negotiations before a decision had to be taken. He also said Abbas might feel more confident to meet Israel at the negotiating table without preconditions because he had the letter in the Security Council hanging over Israel's head.

"If he did this, it would be a good move," another senior Israeli official said. "He could walk away with the pride of having gone to the Security Council, having an improved terms of reference in a Quartet statement and maybe saving his relationship with the Obama administration. But I don't know if he will do it."

Despite the ideas talking shape, U.S. and European officials said it was too early to know what Abbas would do on Friday and suggested even Abbas himself may not know.

Clinton told reporters Monday the United States is engaged in "intensive ongoing diplomacy" and is talking with all sides to seek a compromise. She said even though there have already been "an enormous number of meetings," it was early in the week and there were still several days left to come up with a solution.

"No matter what does or doesn't happen this week it will not produce the kind of outcome that everyone is hoping for," she said. "So we're going to stay very much engaged and focused."

CNN's Steve Krakauer contributed to this report.

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