Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, was greeted by cheers and whistles and sustained applause from a majority of delegates as he took to the podium of the UN general assembly hall in New York.
“This is a moment of truth,” he said. “Our people are waiting to hear the answer of the world. After 63 years of ongoing catastrophe, we say enough, enough, enough. It is time for the Palestinian people to gain their freedom and independence,” he continued, referring to Israel’s creation.
“At a time when Arab peoples affirm their quest for democracy through the Arab Spring, the time has come also for the Palestinian Spring,” he said.
In response, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, repeated an invitation to Mr Abbas to meet him in New York — a gesture dismissed by the Palestinians as “highly theatrical” — and said Israel was committed to peace. “The truth is that Israel wants peace, the truth is that I want peace. The truth is that we cannot reach peace through UN resolutions but through negotiations,” he said.
A West Bank audience of thousands greeted the speech with enthusiasm. Loudspeakers blared the Palestinian national anthem and there was dancing and celebration in Ramallah’s Yasser Arafat Square, where a large crowd gathered to listen to Mr Abbas.
Away from the square, Issam Badran, a Palestinian labourer, was shot dead by Israeli security forces in the West Bank village of Qusra that had come under attack by radical Jewish settlers.
Mr Abbas declared negotiations with Israel “will be meaningless”, as long as it continued building on Palestinian land on the West Bank, warning that his government could collapse if the construction persists. “This policy is responsible for the continued failure of the successive international attempts to salvage the peace process,” said Mr Abbas, who has refused to negotiate until the construction stops. To another round of applause from UN delegates, he held up a copy of the formal membership application.
He said he had asked Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, to expedite consideration of his request to have the UN recognise a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem based on the borders in 1967 before Israel seized territory in the Six-Day War.
Last night, two hours after Mr Abbas finished speaking, Mr Ban forwarded the bid to the UN Security Council. The council is to meet on Monday to consider the application.
Mr Netanyahu said it was time for the Palestinians to recognise that Israel was a “Jewish state”. The speeches of both leaders underlined how the two sides remain miles apart after peace talks ground to a halt three years ago, save for a brief resumption last year.
The Palestinians have said that frustration with the deadlock led them to advance their cause at the UN, where there is broad sympathy and 122 countries recognise Palestine as a state.
They are gambling that raising the stakes on the international stage will force Israel into compromise. In advance of the statehood bid, the US Congress and Israel threatened to cut off funds to the Palestinian Authority.
President Barack Obama has pledged to veto the application, arguing that only negotiation can bring a meaningful peace agreement. In that event, the Palestinians will probably seek to upgrade their status at the UN from permanent observer to non-member observer state, which they would almost certainly be granted by the general assembly. The process could last several months.
Members of the Quartet on the Middle East — the UN, US, EU and Russia — yesterday issued a timetable for talks which called on Palestinians and Israelis to meet within a month and for a peace deal to be reached by the end of next year. [via The Telegraph (UK), BBC and The Star]