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Urgent meetings held to reduce Israeli, Palestinian tensions

The agenda is a draft resolution by the Palestinian Authority to end Israeli occupation.

US Secretary of State John Kerry (C) arrives at Ciampino International Airport, on 14 December, 2014, in Rome. Picture: AFP.

ROME - Washington is holding a series of urgent meetings in Rome, in an effort to reduce Israeli, Palestinian tensions.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with United States Secretary of State John Kerry in the Italian capital later today.

There's lots of intense last-minute diplomatic shuffling.

Kerry will hold back-to-back meetings with Israelis, Palestinians and Europeans.

On the agenda is a draft resolution put forward by the Palestinian Authority to end Israeli occupation.

It wants the United Nations Security Council to vote on it this week.

The draft calls for recognising a Palestinian state and for Israel to withdraw from the West Bank by the end of 2016.

Netanyahu insists the proposal will be rejected, saying it will lead to Islamic extremists inside Israeli suburbs.

Washington is trying to prevent a diplomatic confrontation in the Security Council, or at least postpone the confrontation for as long as possible.

Later on Monday, Kerry will travel to Paris for talks with European counterparts and then on to London to meet Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat and a delegation from the Arab League, who will urge the United States not to use its UN Security Council veto to block the proposals.

The hastily-arranged meetings suggested urgency in America's drive to manage efforts among Security Council members to draft a new proposal before Israeli elections in March. Kerry said on Friday he wanted to defuse tensions during the talks.

Jordan has circulated a draft Palestinian resolution to the 15-member U.N. Security Council calling for Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory to end by November 2016, and the Palestinians said on Monday they could submit it in the coming days.

France, Britain and Germany are discussing another proposal, but a senior US official said there was no consensus among them and the United States had not been asked to take a position.

A senior Western diplomat said the Europeans were aiming for a consensus resolution devising a binding, unspecified, time frame and felt the Americans were now open to that possibility.

US SEEKS COORDINATION

A statement issued after a Palestinian leadership meeting convened by President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah said the resolution will be submitted to the UN Security Council after Kerry's meeting with the Arab League delegation.

A Palestinian official who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity said the resolution will be presented on Wednesday.

Israel's Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz told reporters: "I assume an anti-Israeli proposal will draw a US veto. That's how it's always been, and that's what we hope will happen."

But Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, speaking on Army Radio, said it appeared the United States "is not eager to use its veto" on the Palestinian statehood issue but was seeking "maximum coordination" with Netanyahu.

Netanyahu and Washington have clashed frequently over Israeli settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, territory Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war, leading to Israeli media speculation that a frustrated United States could soften its opposition to unilateral statehood steps.

The senior US official said the common objective was to reduce tensions and try to coordinate with the various parties.

"We all want to keep open the hope of a two-state solution and we all want to prevent to the best of our abilities an escalation of the violence on the ground," the official said.

Additional reporting by Reuters