|Mahmoud Abbas submitted Palestine's full-membership application in September [Reuters]
Britain has said that it will abstain from voting if Palestine's application for full-membership at the UN was taken up in the UN Security Council.
William Hague, the British foreign secretary, said on Wednesday that his government had decided to abstain from voting in the hope that it would help bring Palestine and Israel back to the negotiating table.
“We will not vote against the application because of the progress the Palestinian leadership has made towards meeting the criteria,” Hague said, speaking to the British parliament.
“But nor can we vote for it while our primary objective remains a return to negotiations through the Quartet process and the success of those negotiations."
Hague said the Palestinian Authority “largely fulfills the criteria for UN membership,” but granting it the status would impede its “ability to function effectively as a state”.
The Palestinian campaign, launched with a dramatic speech by President Mahmoud Abbas at UN headquarters in September, has fallen onto hard times in recent weeks.
While the speech was warmly received, the Palestinians have struggled to muster the nine votes needed in the 15-member Security Council to approve their bid for membership as a state.
Britain’s announcement comes a day after a similar statement by France.
The council's admissions committee is expected to endorse a draft report on its members views of the application on Friday. But it remains unclear when the council will actually vote on the issue.
The abstentions come as Palestinians are resigned to defeat in their quest for full membership, according to media reports.
The Associated Press (AP) reported that Palestinian officials have started work on their backup plan of seeking an upgraded observer status that would give them access to key international organisations.
They hope that this enhanced status would help them build on their entry last month to UNESCO, the UN's cultural agency.
Foreign Minister Riad Malki conceded that his government would not be able to gain enough support in the council.
“We knew that the Security Council would not be a picnic. But the most important thing here is who is going to win in the final round,'' he told AP.
“There will be other rounds, and we will never despair.''
The Palestinians turned to the United Nations after a three-year deadlock in peace talks.
They asked the world body to endorse a Palestinian state in the occupied West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem- territories captured by Israel in the 1967 war.
While a UN vote would not change the situation on the ground, the Palestinians believe a strong international endorsement would boost their position in negotiations.
The Palestinians say they will not return to the negotiating table unless Israel halts settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to stop the construction, which has settled 500,000 Israelis onto lands claimed by the Palestinians, calling for talks without preconditions.
Hague also criticized Israel’s announcement last week of accelerating the construction of 2,000 settlements.
The eighth announcement of settlement expansion in six months was “wrong and deeply counterproductive," he said.