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Palestinians seek to raise their flag at UN ahead of Pope visit

In a move likely to upset Israel’s government, the Palestinians are seeking to raise their flag, along with the Vatican flag, at U.N. headquarters – just in time for Pope Francis’ visit next month.

Supporters of the idea hope the U.N. General Assembly will adopt a resolution on the flag-raising shortly before the pope arrives. They’re betting that the United States or other allies of Israel will not block the plan and risk offending the Holy See on Francis’ first U.S. visit.

The Palestinians’ proposal has been tabled, and a draft of the resolution has been seen by The Associated Press. It would allow non-member observer states – there are only two – to display their flags with the 193 member states.

While the Vatican’s mission to the U.N. earlier expressed support for the idea, it circulated a letter this week distancing itself from the draft, asking the Palestinian mission to “kindly to remove in its draft resolution any reference to the `Holy See’ and any generic reference `on behalf of the Observer States.'”

The Holy See’s mission did not comment Wednesday. Emmanuel Nahshon, a spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, called the Palestinians’ move “an attempt to create a meaningless and cheap gimmick.”

The United States and Israel oppose recognizing the Palestinian state, arguing that it undermines efforts to negotiate a peace agreement. That process, however, has largely been at a standstill since the deadly conflict in Gaza a year ago.

Many states have shown support for the Palestinians’ pursuit of statehood, including the Holy See.

In May, the Vatican officially recognized the state of Palestine in their first formal, bilateral treaty. Israel’s foreign ministry said it was “disappointed.” During Francis’ 2014 visit to the Holy Land, the Vatican’s official program referred to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as the president of the “state of Palestine.”

In 2012, the Vatican welcomed an overwhelming vote in the General Assembly to upgrade the Palestinians’ status to a U.N. non-member observer state. Their delegation promptly unfurled the flag in the chamber.

The pope has not been shy about ambitious diplomacy. He helped bring the United States and Cuba together for their historic reestablishment of diplomatic ties. Last year, he invited the Israeli and Palestinian presidents for a day of peace prayers at the Vatican.

Most countries in Western Europe have held off on recognizing a Palestinian state, but some have hinted that their position could change if peace efforts remain deadlocked. Most countries in Africa, Asia and South America have recognized Palestine.

Francis is scheduled to address the General Assembly on Sept. 25, opening a gathering of world leaders to launch a set of development goals aimed at ending both poverty and hunger over the next 15 years.

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More than 100 heads of state and government are expected at the gathering, which leads into the annual U.N. General Assembly of world leaders the following week. President Barack Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani are scheduled to speak on the first morning.

Associated Press writer Tia Goldenberg in Jerusalem contributed. This story has been corrected to reflect that the Vatican’s mission to the U.N. this week sent a letter distancing itself from the draft.