Palestinian bid tops packed U.N. agenda

Disease, racism, famine also to be discussed

UNITED NATIONS – The spotlight will be shining on the Palestinian bid for U.N. membership when world leaders gather at the United Nations starting Monday, but the U.N. is hoping the glow will spread to other pressing global issues, including killer diseases, nuclear safety, terrorism and the aftershocks of the Arab Spring.

More than 120 presidents, prime ministers and monarchs will be meeting under heavy security at the General Assembly and in sideline events, just a week after the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that shook the United States.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the high-level meetings are taking place “at a moment of uncommon turbulence and high anxiety,” with famine in Somalia, turmoil in the Mideast, and the global economic crisis continuing to shake banks, businesses, governments and families. This year’s agenda is jam-packed, and “the pace even faster than usual,” he said.

The General Assembly ministerial session is almost certain to be dominated by the Palestinians’ quest for internationally recognized statehood. More than 120 of the 193 U.N. member states have already recognized a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders with Israel, according to Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. observer.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Friday he will seek approval for Palestine to become the 194th member state of the United Nations, a move certain to trigger a diplomatic confrontation with Israel and the United States, its staunchest ally. The U.S. is a veto-wielding member of the U.N. Security Council, which must give its backing.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is flying to New York to reiterate his commitment to peace and a resumption of negotiations with the Palestinians. He accused Abbas of dodging direct talks.

“Peace is not achieved through unilateral approaches to the U.N. or by joining forces with the Hamas terror organization,” Netanyahu said in a statement, referring to a recent, unimplemented agreement between Abbas and the violently anti-Israel Islamic group that rules Gaza to unite their rival governments. “Peace can only be achieved through direct negotiations with Israel.”

U.S. President Barack Obama will also be attending, and there are hopes that perhaps the Palestinian and Israeli leaders can meet on the sidelines.

One notable past participant won’t be making it this time. Moammar Gadhafi, who in 2009 delivered a rambling, 96-minute speech before the assembly and created a ruckus by having his Bedouin-style tent set up on land owned by real estate tycoon Donald Trump, no longer leads Libya in the eyes of the U.N. The General Assembly voted Friday to accept the leaders of the rebellion that ousted him.

Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff, who was elected last October, will be making her first appearance. The secretary-general said she will be the first woman in the 66-year history of the United Nations to be the first speaker in the General Debate, the annual ministerial session that begins Wednesday.

Other high-level events include the 10-year commemoration of the 2001 U.N. racism conference held in Durban, South Africa, which created an uproar because its initial document equated Zionism with racism and there was intense anti-Israel rhetoric. Thursday’s event will be attended by Ban, South African President Jacob Zuma and other leaders, but the U.S., Canada, Australia, Israel and at least six European nations are boycotting the meeting because it could become a vehicle for Israel-bashing.

A high-level meeting Tuesday will spearhead support for Libya’s newly seated Transitional National Council. U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said the council’s leader, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, will attend the General Assembly and meet Obama.

Montenegro’s U.N. Ambassador Milorad Scepanovic said there’s only one question at the end of the ministerial gabfest.

“What’s the result?” he said. “We don’t need more papers, documents and resolutions. What we need is mainly reform of the U.N. – efficiency.”


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