Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas today submitted a formal application to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for full membership in the world body for a Palestinian state, despite a U.S. vow to veto the bid.
A few hours after he announced the move in a speech to the General Assembly, and Israeli Leader Benjamin Netanyahu had spoken against it, international diplomats presented terms for the resumption of stalled negotiations between the two sides.
In a joint statement, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon made what they called an "urgent appeal to the parties to overcome the current obstacles and resume direct bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations without delay or preconditions."
Earlier, Abbas had received a rapturous welcome in the General Assembly when he arrived at the podium to speak, with many of the assembled diplomats giving him a standing ovation. But as the applause continued, several members of the Israeli delegation left the hall, including Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
Abbas announced that he had given Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon his bid for recognition, saying "I, in my capacity as president of the state of Palestine and chairman of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, submitted to His Excellency Mr. Ban Ki-moon, secretary-general of the United Nations, an application for the admission of Palestine, on the basis of the June 4, 1967 borders, with Al-Quds Al-Sharif [Jerusalem] as its capital, as a full member of the United Nations."
Israel, which has occupied the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem since the Six Day War in 1967, insists that ceding those territories would leave it indefensible.
Ban forwarded Abbas's application to the 15-nation Security Council, which is expected to take up the issue on September 26.
Security Council members Brazil, China, India, Lebanon, South Africa, and Russia are expected to support the Palestinian bid. The positions of European members Bosnia and Herzegovina, Britain, France, Germany, and Portugal are unknown, as are the positions of Colombia, Gabon, and Nigeria.
The United States, a permanent member of the Security Council, has vowed to veto the Palestinians' bid, with U.S. President Barack Obama arguing that there are "no shortcuts" to get around a negotiated settlement with Israel.
Speaking to the General Assembly on September 21, Obama made the case again for a negotiated, two-state solution.
"Each side has legitimate aspirations and that's part of what makes peace so hard. And the deadlock will only be broken when each side learns to stand in the other's shoes, each side can see the world through the other's eyes," he said,
But today, Abbas said negotiations "will be meaningless" as long as Israel continues building settlements on lands the Palestinians claim as their own.
"This policy will destroy the chances of achieving a two-state solution upon which there is an international consensus, and here I caution aloud: this settlement policy threatens to also undermine the structure of the Palestinian National Authority and even end its existence," he said.
Resumption of negotiations, he said, could take place "on the basis of the adopted terms of reference based on international legitimacy and a complete cessation of settlement activities."
Palestinians abandoned the most recent round of peace talks after Israel refused to extend a 10-month moratorium on settlement building that expired at the end of September, 2010.
Waving a copy of the membership application, Abbas proclaimed, "The time has come," prompting a celebratory eruption among crowds listening to his speech on the streets of West Bank cities and towns.
The Palestinians' push for statehood has dominated this week's opening of the General Assembly, and today the drama peaked as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took the podium just an hour after Abbas spoke.
Pledging that his country was "willing to make painful compromises," the Israeli leader said, "I extend my hand to the Palestinian people, with whom we seek a just and lasting peace."
But he reiterated his government's staunch opposition to the unilateral statehood bid and accused the Palestinians of walking away from negotiations. "The truth is that we cannot achieve peace through UN resolutions, but only through direct negotiations between the parties," Netanyahu told the assembly. "The truth is that so far the Palestinians have refused to negotiate. The truth is that Israel wants peace with a Palestinian state, but the Palestinians want a state without peace."
Netanyahu also said recognition of a Palestinian state should only come when Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state and take its security concerns seriously.
"The core of the conflict is not the settlements. The settlements are a result of the conflict. It's an issue that has to be addressed and resolved in the course of negotiations. But the core of the conflict has always been, and unfortunately remains, the refusal of the Palestinians to recognize a Jewish state in any border," he said.
The Israeli leader also challenged Abbas's statement that the Palestinians were armed "only with their hopes and dreams." "Hopes, dreams, and 10,000 missiles and Grad rockets supplied by Iran," he said.
But he ended his remarks by calling on Abbas to restart peace negotiations and meet face-to-face later that day.
Shortly after, diplomats from the United States, the United Nations, the European Union, and Russia -- a group known as the Middle East Quartet -- proposed a new set of terms for restarting peace talks.
A statement from the group acknowledged the Palestinians' UN bid and proposed a meeting between the two sides within one month, at which an agenda and structure for continued negotiations could be agreed.
"At that meeting there will be a commitment by both sides that the objective of any negotiation is to reach an agreement within a timeframe agreed to by the parties but not longer than the end of 2012," the statement said.
"The Quartet proposal represents the firm conviction of the international community that a just and lasting peace can only come through negotiations between the parties," said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. "Therefore, we urge both parties to take advantage of this opportunity to get back to talk."
Meanwhile, there was a stark reminder of the violence that the conflict has spawned. A Palestinian report said Israeli security forces killed a Palestinian man today during a confrontation with Jewish settlers in his West Bank village.
written by Richard Solash with agency reports