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Oren: Top item on U.S.-Israel agenda is Palestinian statehood bid

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Palestinians’ bid for an upgrade in U.N. status is of immediate concern in the U.S.-Israel relationship, Israeli U.S. Ambassador Michael Oren said in a post-U.S. election interview.

"We regard this with the utmost seriousness and are closely communicating with the United States and other like-minded nations in the world," Oren told JTA on Thursday.

Oren was reaching out to journalists after President Obama spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the leaders’ first conversation since Obama won reelection on Tuesday.

"They reaffirmed the historic relationship between the two countries and committed to further strengthen that relationship and work together closely to address the issues the countries face in the Middle East," Oren said.

The most important issue was Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program, Oren said, but the item of most immediate concern was the Palestine Liberation Organization’s bid to obtain observer state status at the United Nations — a request that could be considered as soon as this month.

"This could be calamitous for the Palestinians themselves," Oren said. "It would not get them closer to real statehood, it would create unrealistic expectations on the ground and it would call into question a number of agreements Israel has with the Palestinian Authority and not with the ‘state of Palestine.’ "

The bid for observer status is more modest than the Palestinian attempt last year to seek full statehood recognition.

That initiative, needing the approval of the U.N. Security Council, was blocked in part by the veto on that body wielded by the United States. Observer status needs only the approval of the General Assembly, where the Palestinians would likely garner majority support.

Oren said the net effect was the same.

"The Palestinians have said they would use that status to move to" achieve statehood status at "other agencies in the U.N. and to sue us for war crimes in the International Court," he said.

Oren added that Israel is confident of U.S. support in the bid to head off a unilateral declaration of independence, or UDI, by the Palestinians.

"President Obama has been unequivocal and outspoken in his opposition to UDI," he said, "and we deeply appreciate that."

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