U.S. Urges Palestinians to Return to Direct Negotiations

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- The U.S. State Department wants to convince Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to return to direct negotiations with Israel rather than attempt a second unilateral bid at the United Nations later this month.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters Monday the United States has not changed its belief that face-to-face negotiations with Israel are "the only realistic path" to a future state.

"We are working intensively through the Quartet and directly with Israelis and Palestinians to continue to encourage them to come back to the [negotiating] table," Nuland told reporters.

"All we can do is push them. We cannot force them," she said. "They've got to make the decision for peace. They've got to make the decision to come back to the table."

Despite U.S. misgivings, Abbas said last weekend he intends to pursue non-member status in the General Assembly on Sept. 27, a year after a U.S. veto zeroed a bid for non-member observer status in the Security Council.

The following month, Abbas successfully turned to UNESCO for full member status, despite not meeting the standards for membership.

The P.A. used the decision as a springboard to apply for membership in 16 other U.N. organizations and also to intensify the campaign to transform Jewish biblical sites, such as the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel's Tomb, into Muslim sites.

Though full-member status can only be achieved in the Security Council, Abbas claims that 133 U.N. members recognize the Palestinian Authority as a state, with east Jerusalem as its capital.

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