Britain is ready to back calls at the United Nations for recognition of a Palestinian state if it gives a commitment to an immediate and unconditional return to the negotiating table with Israel, Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Wednesday.
In a statement to the House of Commons, Hague said he would also be seeking an assurance that the Palestinians would not seek to extend the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court over the occupied territories before deciding which way to vote in tomorrow's debate at the UN General Assembly.
"Up until the time of the vote itself, we will remain open to voting in favour of the resolution if we see public assurances by the Palestinians on these points. However, in the absence of these assurances, the United Kingdom would abstain on the vote," he said.
The move comes after France announced yesterday that it was ready to support the resolution to upgrade the Palestinians' status at the UN from observer to non-member observer state.
With the General Assembly dominated by countries sympathetic to the Palestinian cause - and no veto for members of the Security Council - the resolution looks set to be passed, despite the vehement opposition of both Israel and the United States.
The Israelis have already said they will not return to negotiations following the vote, arguing that it would undermine efforts to secure a Middle East peace settlement.
Mr Hague told MPs that he had appealed to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas - who he praised as a "courageous man of peace" - not to move the resolution at the General Assembly, but to give the newly re-elected US administration of Barack Obama the chance to launch a fresh peace initiative.
"We pointed out that a UN resolution would be depicted by some as a move away from bilateral negotiations with Israel," he said.
"We were also concerned about the considerable financial risks to the Palestinian Authority, at a time when their situation is already precarious, if a vote led to a strong backlash from Israel and within the US political system," he said.
In those circumstance, he said a public commitment by the Palestinians that they were ready to resume negotiations with Israel without pre-conditions was "indispensable" if the UK was to vote in favour.
The Palestinians also needed to make clear that they would not seek to build on the resolution to pursue International Criminal Court jurisdiction over the Occupied Territories as this could make a return to negotiations "impossible", he said.
"There has been a dangerous impasse in the peace process over the last two years," he said. "The world cannot afford this vacuum in the peace process."
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