By Jon Swaine and Adrian Blomfield
Susan Rice, the American ambassador to the UN, said there was “no greater threat” to US support and funding of the UN than the prospect of Palestinian statehood being endorsed by member states.
Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian authority, plans to ask the UN general assembly, which comprises all 192 members, to vote on recognition at its annual meeting in New York in September.
The US and Israel are pressing Mr Abbas to drop his plans. Mr Obama has strongly opposed the move, raising the prospect of a veto in the UN Security Council, which is expected to vote on a Palestinian statehood proposal in July.
But Palestinian officials have spoken of their determination to a circumvent a US veto by deploying a rarely used Cold War mechanism known as “Uniting for Peace” under which a two-thirds majority in the General Assembly can override the Security Council.
Although Palestinians believe they are close to securing such a majority, the General Assembly does not have the power to confer UN membership on a new Palestinian state, meaning that a successful vote would represent little more than a symbolic triumph.
Even so, Republicans in the US Congress are promising to react aggressively to any approval of statehood. Two congressmen have already vowed to initiate bills to withdraw UN funding in the House of Representatives.
Such a development could be devastating to the UN. The US provides almost a quarter of its $2.5 billion (£1.6 billion) annual budget, making a yearly contribution of almost $600 million (£375 million).