Malta has endorsed a plan put forward by the French President for Palestine to be granted observer status at the UN, one step short of full membership, according to Foreign Minister Tonio Borg.

An upgrade of the current status of the Palestinian Authority by one notch to put it on par with the Vatican would only require a simple majority in the General Assembly to be approved – meaning it is likely to breeze through if President Nicho­las Sarkozy’s proposal is taken up.

The Palestinians are insisting on full membership at the UN in what would effectively be a declaration of independence that is opposed by Israel and the US.

However, full membership would have to be approved by the 15-member UN Security Council – the US, one of five permanent members to hold a veto, has already said it will block the move.

Speaking from New York, Foreign Minister Tonio Borg said French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s intervention on Wednesday was “a step in the right direction”, which Malta supported.

He said the EU was working hard on a compromise resolution and Mr Sarkozy’s initiative reflected the current discussion within the EU.

The French plan calls for observer status with a one-year timeline during which a lasting solution is reached in the Middle East for the setting up of an independent Palestinian state.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has vowed to press on with the Palestinian bid. If, as is likely, the Security Council bid is blocked, the Palestinians can ask for a non-binding vote on statehood at the General Assembly unless they choose the French option.

Malta has so far refrained from publicly declaring its voting intention if the matter came before the General Assembly but Dr Borg insisted EU member states decided to keep silent not to prejudice a common position.

However, if the Palestinian issue eventually made it to the General Assembly, he added, and there was no common EU position, Malta would publicly declare its voting intentions.

He noted Malta’s traditional support for the Palestinian quest for statehood, which dates back to 1988.

“Malta has since then granted full diplomatic status to the Palestinian ambassador in Malta,” Dr Borg said.

The Palestinian UN bid, even if it ends up being a symbolic gesture, is meant to break years of frustration during which Palestinian leaders have nothing to show for years of start-and-stop negotiations with Israel on the creation of an independent state.

Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi is to address the 66th session of the UN General Assembly tomorrow.

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