By Nasser Abou Bakr and Hossam Ezzedine | AFP
The Palestinians will submit a bid to the General Assembly this month for non-state membership of the United Nations, despite US opposition, president Mahmud Abbas said on Sunday.Abbas also spoke out in favour of the exhumation of veteran Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's body to establish the cause of his death and revealed Russia was involved in the efforts.
"We're going to the United Nations in November 2012, not 2013, or 2014," Abbas said at an event commemorating the eighth anniversary of the death of Arafat.
"Israel's hysterical reaction to our UN bid is due to its desire to continue the occupation and we are under pressure of late from multiple parties to waive our just demand, but we will not," Abbas added.
His spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina revealed later on Sunday that US President Barack Obama told Abbas that his administration opposes the Palestinian bid for non-state membership.
"There was a long telephone conversation," he told AFP. "Obama expressed the opposition of the United States to the decision to go to the UN General Assembly."
Abbas explained "the reasons and motives for the Palestinian decision ... including the continued (Jewish) settlement activity and Israeli aggression against citizens and property."
Israel and the United States are both opposed to the Palestinian plan, insisting that a Palestinian state can only result from peace negotiations, which have been suspended for the past two years.
Palestinian envoys to the United Nations on Thursday unveiled the resolution they plan to submit to the General Assembly seeking observer state status.
The resolution would call on the assembly to accord observer membership and urge the UN Security Council to "consider favourably" an application Abbas made for full membership last year.
The Palestinian application stalled over the opposition of the United States, which wields veto powers.
This year, the Palestinians said they would instead seek enhanced status at the General Assembly, where no one member can block a resolution, and they are expected to comfortably win sufficient support.
Abbas gave no date for the resolution's submission on Sunday, but officials have floated the dates of either November 15 or 29.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, meanwhile, chaired a meeting of Israel's envoys to the European Union to draw up a response to the Palestinian initiative, his office said.
The move is fiercely opposed by Israel, and Israeli ministers have reportedly already met to discuss potential sanctions against the Palestinians if they proceed with the bid.
On the Arafat probe, Abbas also revealed in his speech that the Palestinians were coordinating with Russia, as well as Swiss and French experts, on the planned exhumation.
Arafat died in a French military hospital near Paris on November 11, 2004 and French experts were unable to say what had killed him, with many Palestinians convinced he was poisoned by Israel.
"We are currently in coordination with the French investigators, the Swiss experts, and also the Russian government to open the tomb," Abbas said.
French prosecutors opened a murder inquiry in August after Al-Jazeera television broadcast an investigation in which Swiss experts said they had found high levels of radioactive polonium on Arafat's personal effects.
A French team is due in Ramallah on November 26 to begin work on exhuming the body, Palestinian sources told AFP last month, adding Swiss experts would arrive at the same time for an operation that could take "several weeks or a month."
Abbas also asked at a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last week for the help of Russian investigators and experts, a Palestinian source said on condition of anonymity.
Polonium is a highly toxic substance rarely found outside military and scientific circles.
It was used to kill former Russian spy turned Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko, who died in 2006 in London shortly after drinking tea laced with the poison.
The French murder inquiry was opened in late August at the request of Arafat's widow Suha, who had refused to give her permission for an autopsy at the time of his death.
Abbas later on Sunday left on a tour of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Switzerland, his spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina said.