* Palestinians due to request non-member status this month
* Likely to win approval in 193-member General Assembly
* France previously backed Palestinian UNESCO entry
By John Irish
PARIS, Nov 22 (Reuters) - France on Thursday indicated it would support efforts by the Palestinians to secure a diplomatic upgrade at the United Nations, a decision likely to boost Palestinian efforts as it seeks greater international recognition.
Frustrated that their bid for full U.N. membership last year failed amid U.S. opposition in the U.N. Security Council, Palestinians have launched a watered-down bid for recognition as a non-member state, similar to the Vatican’s U.N. status.
Without specifically saying which way France would vote at the U.N. General Assembly, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius hinted that Paris would support the Palestinians’ bid.
“I can indicate which direction we may take and one that has been taken by previous French political parties (and) under previous governments,” Fabius told members of the French Senate.
“As far as this current government goes, I would like to remind you of the campaign pledge number 59 of the (presidential) candidate, now President Francois Hollande, which said that there would be an international recognition of a Palestinian state.”
The proposal, which is due to be put to the vote in the General Assembly later this month, would implicitly recognize Palestinian statehood and could also grant access to bodies such as the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where the Palestinians could file complaints against Israel.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ bid seems certain to win approval in any vote in the 193-nation assembly, which is composed mostly of post-colonial states historically sympathetic to the Palestinians.
However, Abbas is seeking approval from European powers to strengthen his case.
A French government source said Fabius’s comment, while short of explicit, was intended to reflect the fact that France was leaning towards voting in support of the status being sought by the Palestinians.
The United States say Palestinian statehood must be achieved by negotiation and has called on Abbas to return to peace talks that collapsed in 2010 over Israeli settlement construction in the occupied West Bank.
Washington can block full recognition of Palestine as a U.N. member at the Security Council, where it has a veto, but it has no hold over the General Assembly.
Until now Fabius had refused to tip his hand on the matter, citing the negative implications it could have on peace negotiations.
During a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Oct. 31, French President Francois Hollande said he regretted “the temptation of the Palestinian Authority to go to the General Assembly to get what it couldn’t through negotiations.”
Fabius was speaking after meeting Abbas last weekend amid attempts to secure a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in their Gaza conflict. Despite the violence, Abbas has said he would push ahead with plans for a vote at the United Nations.
Abbas’s proposal comes at a time when peace negotiations with Israel have hit a wall over Israel’s refusal to halt settlement building in territory where the Palestinians want their state.
“France is a friend of Israel and the Palestinian people and is defending peace which means the security of Israel and the right of the Palestinians to have a viable democratic and peaceful state,” Fabius said.
Under former President Nicolas Sarkozy, France had promised to support Abbas if he opted for the upgrade option. Sarkozy’s government broke from its closest allies last year voting in favour of giving the Palestinians full membership of the U.N.’s cultural agency UNESCO.