FOREIGN Minister Kevin Rudd wants Australia to abstain in a potentially explosive United Nations vote to recognise a Palestinian state, pitting him against Julia Gillard's declared strong support for Israel.
Mr Rudd has written to the Prime Minister recommending Australia vote neither for nor against a resolution set to dominate a UN summit in New York next month.
If followed, the letter - sent before Mr Rudd had heart surgery on August 1 - would result in Australia trying to duck the controversy over efforts to allow Palestine into the UN as a sovereign state.
Mr Rudd's suggested tactic is being interpreted as an attempt to avoid antagonising Arab nations and to protect Australia's campaign for a temporary seat on the Security Council, due to go to a vote next year.
But abstaining from any vote on Palestinian statehood would annoy Israel - which has mounted a worldwide diplomatic offensive against the resolution - and would likely leave Australia out of step with the US.
Ms Gillard has made support for Israel one of her foreign policy priorities since toppling Mr Rudd for the leadership. Australia has a policy of supporting a two-state solution but has not backed unilateral moves towards Palestinian statehood in the past, calling for a negotiated settlement to the long-running conflict.
Three prominent Jewish groups held talks in Canberra with Mr Rudd and Ms Gillard in early June to express opposition to the UN vote, which is expected in late September around the opening of the annual General Assembly.
The meetings - led by Executive Council of Australian Jewry president Danny Lamm, the Zionist Federation of Australia's Philip Chester and the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council's Jeremy Jones - were described as a presentation rather than lobbying.
''We went to present and asked to be listened to about where we stood on particular issues,'' Mr Jones said yesterday.
Palestinian Authority spokesman Ghassan Khatib was in Canberra last week to put the Palestinian case in favour of the resolution and met Chris Evans, who was acting foreign minister while Mr Rudd was in hospital.
Moammar Mashni, of Australians for Palestine, said his organisation had met a number of government members in June urging Australia to back the UN resolution in line with Labor's support for a two-state settlement.
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