France has announced that it plans to vote in favour of recognising a Palestinian state at the UN General Assembly this week.
With the announcement, France becomes the first major European country to come out in favour, dealing a setback to Israel. The timing of the announcement appears aimed at swaying other European nations.
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told parliament that France has long supported Palestinian ambitions for statehood and "will respond 'Yes'" when the issue comes up for a vote "out of a concern for coherency."
The Palestinians say the assembly is likely to vote Thursday (Friday, NZ time) on a resolution raising their status at the UN from an observer to a nonmember observer state, a move they believe is an important step toward a two-state solution with Israel. A Palestinian state would still not be a full General Assembly member, however.
Unlike the Security Council, there are no vetoes in the General Assembly and the resolution is virtually certain of approval. But such a vote by France — a permanent council member — could weigh on decisions in other European capitals.
Europe is divided over the issue. Switzerland and Portugal have said they will vote for the measure, but Germany is among the countries that have opposed the bid. Britain's position remains unclear.
Palestinians say they are doing this out of frustration over the four-year deadlock in peace efforts. They believe an endorsement of their state will bolster their negotiating position.
Israel strongly opposes the bid, accusing the Palestinians of trying to bypass negotiations. The resolution would endorse a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, the territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war. Israel opposes a pullback to the 1967 lines.
As French lawmakers applauded — many of them members or allies of the Socialist-led government — Fabius cautioned against raising Palestinian hopes too high.
"But, but, but, but, but — but at the same time, madame and monsieur lawmakers, we must show in this case a lot of lucidity," he said.
"On the one hand, because the text is currently being discussed, and I myself had (Palestinian) President Mahmoud Abbas on the phone yesterday morning," he said. "On the other hand, because — let's not hide from this — that this question will be asked at a very delicate moment."
He went on to note the "fragile cease-fire" after the recent deadly fighting between Hamas and Israel, the Israeli election in January, and the upcoming "change in composition of the American administration" — with the United States seen by many as perhaps the most pivotal player in the region.
"In any case, it's only through negotiations — that we ask for without conditions and immediately between the two sides — that we will be able to reach the realization of a Palestinian state," Fabius said.