RAMALLAH, West Bank - The Palestinians plan to ask the U.N. Security Council in the coming days to declare Israeli settlements illegal and demand a halt to their construction, officials said Wednesday, in a high-stakes gamble aimed at increasing pressure on Israel.
A draft of the resolution obtained by the Associated Press calls the settlements obstacles to peace but does not ask for sanctions against Israel or any other concrete action.
This would be a key element in a Palestinian campaign to rally international support for independence, even without a peace deal. Officials said the strategy reflected their disillusionment with sputtering U.S. peace efforts and Palestinian distrust of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The move - largely aimed at seeking U.S. support - bears huge risks.
The United States has already balked at the resolution and might veto it. Even a U.S. abstention, a more likely option, would greatly diminish the resolution's significance.
Israel blasted the measure as an effort to avoid negotiations.
The White House began the latest round of peace talks Sept. 2, but they broke down three weeks later with the expiration of a limited Israeli freeze on West Bank settlement construction.
The Palestinians refuse to negotiate while Israel builds homes for Jews in the West Bank and East Jerusalem - areas the Palestinians claim for a future state.
Netanyahu has declined to renew the freeze but says he would discuss all issues in direct negotiations. U.S. mediators have been unable to find a compromise to restart talks, leading the Palestinians to consider alternative strategies.
Palestinian officials said their resolution would be presented to the Security Council in early January.
According to the draft, it will ask the 15-member council, whose decisions are considered legally binding in international law, to declare settlements "a major obstacle to the achievement of peace" and ensure that Israel "completely ceases all settlement activity," without saying how.
The draft, dated Dec. 21, notably does not call for sanctions, instead urging both sides to continue negotiations toward a peace deal. One senior Palestinian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the conciliatory language was added in hopes of winning U.S. support.
The Palestinian proposal received a cool reception in Washington. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the U.S. agreed settlement construction was "corrosive" to peace efforts but said talks were the only way to peace.
"We therefore consistently oppose any attempt to take final-status issues" to the council, he said, "as such efforts do not move us closer to our goal of two states living side by side in peace and security."
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said the Palestinian strategy hindered peace efforts. ""They are trying everything except to talk," Palmor said.