President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas addresses the UN in New York in September 2012.

President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas addresses the UN in New York in September 2012. Photo: Reuters

Britain has a "historic responsibility" to support an imminent Palestinian attempt to enhance its status at the United Nations that risks causing a confrontation with America and fresh turmoil in the Middle East, according to a senior official.

The UK, like other main European nations, including Germany and Spain, has not yet decided whether to vote yes, no or to abstain in the vote, which is to be held on Thursday. Britain would prefer the Palestinians to drop the bid, which comes just days after the agreement of a ceasefire following eight days of aerial warfare between Israel and militants in Gaza.

The government is coming under strong pressure to follow the lead of France, which has strongly hinted that it will vote in favour of the application by the Palestinian Authority to become a "non-member state" of the world body. Currently it holds only observer status.

On Sunday, Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, told supporters in Ramallah: "We are going to the UN fully confident in our steps. We will have our rights because you are with us."

The Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank but not Gaza, hopes that the international backing of a yes vote will persuade Israel to return to full peace negotiations after more than two years of impasse.

"After everything that has happened in the Arab Spring, Britain can't pretend it is in favour of democracy in Libya, Syria and Egypt but accepts the Palestinians continuing to live under occupation," Leila Shahid, the general delegate of Palestine to the EU, told The Daily Tele-graph.

"As the former colonial power, Britain has an historic responsibility to Palestine.

"Britain is a very important country in the Middle East, it has extensive trade relations, and David Cameron should know he risks a popular backlash from Arab public opinion if he does not support us."

Mr Cameron and William Hague, Britain's foreign secretary, have publicly urged the Palestinians to drop the bid, arguing that it could wreck chances of a return to peace talks. The United States and Israel have strongly argued the same. But Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, is supportive, as is Ed Miliband, the Labour leader.

The bid is certain to receive the two-thirds majority it needs in the General Assembly with or without western European nations' backing.

As a "non-member state" - the same status as the Vatican - the Palestinian Authority would be allowed to participate in the International Criminal Court, a prospect that alarms Israel because its could lead to its soldiers or leaders facing war-crimes investigations.

The Daily Telegraph