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Minutes before noon on Friday, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas walked into the office of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and handed him the request for Palestinian statehood, officially setting in motion the historic move which Palestinians believe will lead to them to independence.
Later, on the podium of the United Nations General Assembly, Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, sought to make the case for approving the request in the international body. To an audience of foreign dignitaries roaring their applause, Abbas said the time had come to end what he referred to as the last occupation in the world.
?I say: The time has come for my courageous and proud people, after decades of displacement and colonial occupation and ceaseless suffering, to live like other peoples of the earth, free in a sovereign and independent homeland,? the Palestinian leader declaimed.
Abbas? Friday speech climaxed weeks of intense international diplomatic negotiations to dissuade him from putting aside decades of so far futile bilateral negotiations with Israel in favor of a unilateral stab at international recognition.
?This is about dignity, about your feeling that you are a nation, that you are a state that is recognized, and about your cry for recognition,? Husam Zumlot, a Palestinian negotiator told the Forward moments after Abbas ended his speech. ?This is a historic moment par excellence, a moment in which we say yes to peace, yes to a two-state solution.?
Abbas? address, which kicked off a showdown of speeches with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, attempted to respond to Israeli concerns over his abandonment of the negotiation table. The move for statehood, he said, was not meant to bypass or override the need for negotiated peace with Israel.
?We adhere to the option of negotiating a lasting solution to the conflict in accordance with resolutions of international legitimacy,? said Abbas. ?Here, I declare that the Palestine Liberation Organization is ready to return immediately to the negotiating table on the basis of the adopted terms of reference based on international legitimacy and a complete cessation of settlement activities.?
Israel?s exclusively Jewish settlements on the occupied West Bank were a main theme in Abbas? speech, in which he described their as an intentional attempt by Israel to undermine the territorial viability of a future Palestinian state.
Less than an hour after Abbas left the U.N. stage, to a lengthy standing ovation, Netanyahu took to the podium in a speech carefully designed to answer widespread claims that it is now incumbent on Israel to make concessions for peace.
?The core of the conflict has always been the refusal of the Palestinians to accept the existence of a Jewish state in any border,? Netanyahu said. ?Recognize the Jewish state and make peace with us.?
The Israeli leader gave a detailed description of the security challenges Israel is faced with, challenges that for Israelis, he said, are a matter of life and death. Israel?s width after withdrawing from the West Bank, Netanyahu said, would be less then the length of Manhattan, and its neighbors, he added, are less friendly than the residents of New Jersey and the Bronx.
While turning down the idea of achieving statehood through U.N., the Israeli prime minister addressed Abbas directly, urging him to immediately enter peace talks.
?I extend my hand to the Palestinian people, with whom we seek a just and lasting peace,? Netanyahu said. He proposed that the two leaders, who are currently in New York for the U.N. meeting, sit down immediately and talk peace.
The rhetorical battle at the U.N. General Assembly ended with no clear winner. Abbas? views clearly won much more support in the international body than those of Netanyahu, but the practical implications of his speech still remain to be seen.
The Palestinian request for full membership at the U.N. has now been passed on to the Security Council which can take anywhere from days to months in deliberating the issue before bringing the request to a vote.
PLO official Moahmmad Shtayyeh, who has accompanied Abbas to New York, vehemently rejected the notion that Abbas had secretly agreed to let the proposal linger in the Security Council for months before voting.
?I can say categorically that we want this process to move as fast as possible,? he said after the speech, adding that Abbas has explicitly asked U.N. Secretary General Ban to expedite the process.?Nathan Guttman
Netanyahu Rejects Statehood Bid, Insists Israel Wants Peace
Israeli Prime Minister rejected the Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations and insisted that Israel wants to achieve peace through talks.
?The truth is Israel wants peace. I want peace,? Netanyahu said. ?The truth is: We cannot achieve peace through U.N. resolutions. We can only achieve peace through negotiations.?
?I extend my hand to the Palestinian people with whom we seek a just and lasting peace,? Netanyahu told the General Assembly, to a smattering of applause. ?Our hope for peace never wanes.?
He said it would be folly for Israel to trade peace for land without firm security agreements and vowed Israel would be first in line to recognize a Palestinian state in the context of a comprehensive peace deal.
?We need real security arrangements that the Palestinians refuse to negotiate,? he said.
Speaking just minutes after Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas called for statehood, Netanyahu pilloried the claim that Palestinians are only armed with their ?hopes and dreams.?
?Hopes, dreams and 10,000 missiles and rockets,? Netanyahu said derisively. ?Would any of you act so recklessly with the lives of your citizens??
Watch Prime Minister Netanyahu?s full remarks at the UN:
He called on Abbas to join peace talks without any preconditions and offered to meet in New York while they are both at the U.N.
?President Abbas, let?s get on with it,? he said. ?Let?s negotiate peace? With God?s help, we?ll find the common ground of peace.?
Netanyahu repeated that Israel is only nine miles wide at its smallest point, excluding the West Bank. He noted that it takes just three minutes to fly across Israel and compared it to distances familiar to New Yorkers.
?The people of Brooklyn and New Jersey are considerably nicer than some of Israel?s neighbors,? he said.
He said Palestinians had repeatedly failed to show a commitment to peace. After Israel withdrew from Gaza, Hamas took control in a day, and rained rockets on Israeli citizens, he said.
?We didn?t get peace, we got war,? Netanyahu said.
He chided the U.N. as the ?theater of the absurd? for condemning Israel as a racist nation and pouring scorn on its peace deals with moderate neighbors. At the same time, he said the U.N. promotes rogue nations like Saddam Hussein?s Iraq and Gadhafy?s Libya.
?It is here year after year that israel is unfairly singled out for condemnation,? he said. ?You couldn?t make this thing up.??Forward Staff
Abbas Draws Cheers As He Proclaims Statehood BId
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told the United Nations that he presented a historic bid for statehood because the peace process had been ?repeatedly smashed against the rocks? by Israel.
?The goal of the Palestinian people is their inalienable national right (to) the state of Palestine,? he said.
?No one with a shred of conscience can reject our bid,? he added to applause from the General Assembly. ?This is a moment of truth. Our people are waiting to hear from the world.?
Delegates gave Abbas a rousing standing ovation as he waved a copy of the statehood declaration and called on the Security Council to act quickly to act on it.
?Enough, enough, enough,? Abbas said. ?It is time for the Palestinian people to gain their freedom and independence.?
He said the Palestinian people had no choice but to seek statehood because Israel refused to negotiate in good faith to end the occupation of Palestinian territory.
?The core issue is that the Israeli government refuses ? to accept (international law),? Abbas declared.
Abbas said Israeli settlement-building was a key obstacle, and accused Israel of ?ethnic cleansing? in the West Bank.
?Israel is the one who continues to steal our land and water,? he said. ?And yet they speak of unilateral actions.?
He also warned that expansion of Israeli settlements and the Israeli security wall in the West Bank could eventually cause the collapse of the Palestinian Authority.
The speech was interrupted by applause when Abbas invoked the name of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and his vow to not ?let the olive branch from my hand.?
Abbas referred to the unrest that has spread across the Arab world this year, and sought to place the statehood bid in the context of that movement.
?It is time for the Palestinian spring, the spring of independence,? Abbas said.
Speaking minutes after submitting an official request for statehood with U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon, Abbas praised the international community for trying to mediate between the Palestinians and Israel.
But he accused Israel of repeatedly scuttling peace efforts and stressed that Palestinians had waited patiently in the 18 years since the two sides first opened comprehensive peace talks.
?Every new round of negotiations was shattered on the rocks of the Israeli settlement program,? he said.
He called the statehood bid part of an irreversible effort to live side-by-side with Israel in a two-state solution. He said Israelis have nothing to fear from an independent state of Palestine.
?Let us work together,? he said.?Forward Staff
Watch Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas address the U.N.
Abbas Submits Statehood Bid to U.N. Chief
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas handed UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon an official application for full UN membership on Friday, moments before he was due to address the UN General Assembly.
?This is a historic day in which the Palestinians are demanding the right for independence,? said senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat.
Abbas is expected to speak at the UN General Assembly at around 12:30 A.M. EST. Netanyahu is due to deliver his speech about 45 minutes afterward.
An official from the Israeli delegation said that the Palestinians are worried since it is yet unclear if they have managed to gain a majority in the Security Council for their membership bid.
?The Palestinians? message of ?the world against the U.S. who casts a veto to again protect the Israelis? did not succeed,? the Israeli official said.
The Palestinian delegation, however, voiced hope and excitement in what they called a ?historic moment.?
?The feeling among the Palestinian delegation is resolute, excitement, anticipation and a sense of responsibility - history in the making,? Dr. Husam Zomlot, a member of the delegation told Haaretz on Friday.
?We approach the United Nations with all eyes looking forward to the new era where there will be serious genuine peace in this part of the world. Every single diplomat we met today fully understands, endorses, and supports our quest for membership. ?
He added that the Palestinian do not expect the Security Council vote to take place next week, saying that this is a process that would take a few weeks, but ?not longer.?
U.S. President Barack Obama has warned the United States would exercise its UN veto power to prevent a Palestinian state being declared by the 15-member Security Council.
Backing Israel?s insistence the two sides must resume suspended negotiations, Obama this week said there can be ?no shortcut? to a Middle East peace that attempts to circumvent a treaty between the Palestinians and Israel.
Palestinians say they have been patient during 20 years of peace talks that have yielded nothing, while Israel?s occupation continues and settlements grow on West Bank land.
For more, go to Haaretz.com
Hamas Blasts Statehood Bid as Mistake
Gaza?s Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh accused Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday of relinquishing Palestinian rights by seeking recognition for a state in the pre-1967 borders.
Hamas? founding charter calls for the destruction of Israel and a state in all of the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, though some Hamas officials have suggested they would support a peace deal based on the 1967 lines.
?The Palestinian people do not beg the world for a state, and the state can?t be created through decisions and initiatives,? Haniyeh said. ?States liberate their land first and then the political body can be established.?
Earlier this week, Haniyeh reiterated his movement?s opposition to the Palestinian Authority move at the UN, adding however that Hamas would support an independent Palestine on only part of what it considered to be ?historic Palestine? if that state would adhere to core Hamas principles, according to an AFP report.
For more, go to Haaretz.com
Report Quotes Bill Clinton Blaming Bibi for Impasse Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is responsible for the inability to reach a peace deal that would end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, former U.S. President Bill Clinton said on Thursday.
Speaking on the sidelines of the Clinton Global Initiative conference in New York, the former U.S. president was quoted by Foreign Policy magazine as claiming that Netanyahu lost interest in the peace process as soon as two basic Israelis demands seemed to come into reach: a viable Palestinian leadership and the possibility of normalizing ties with the Arab world.
?The Israelis always wanted two things that once it turned out they had, it didn?t seem so appealing to Mr. Netanyahu,? Clinton said, adding that Israel wanted ?to believe they had a partner for peace in a Palestinian government, and there?s no question ? and the Netanyahu government has said ? that this is the finest Palestinian government they?ve ever had in the West Bank.?
Furthermore, the former U.S. president is quoted by Foreign Policy as saying that Israel was also on the verge of being recognized by Arab nations adding that the ?king of Saudi Arabia started lining up all the Arab countries to say to the Israelis, ?if you work it out with the Palestinians ? we will give you immediately not only recognition but a political, economic, and security partnership.?
?This is huge?. It?s a heck of a deal,? Clinton said, adding: ?That?s what happened. Every American needs to know this. That?s how we got to where we are.?
?The real cynics believe that the Netanyahu?s government?s continued call for negotiations over borders and such means that he?s just not going to give up the West Bank,? he added.
For more, go to Haaretz.com
Israeli Intellectuals Back Palestinian Statehood Bid
Hundreds of Israeli intellectuals and academicians voiced their support of Palestinian statehood in a Tel Aviv rally on Thursday, urging PA President Mahmoud Abbas to forge ahead with his UN bid despite U.S. resistance.
About 300 people attended the event outside of Tel Aviv?s Independence Hall, which included speeches from former Labor MK Yael Dayan, writer Sefi Rachlevsky, 1968 student protest leader Daniel Cohn Bendit, Prof. David Harel, Prof. Yosef Agassi, Tal Harris from One Voice and others.
Speaking at the rally, Foreign Ministry director general Alon Liel described U.S. President Obama?s UN speech on Wednesday as a ?knockout blow to Abu Mazen [Abbas].?
?An American elections speech which stated that the United States supported the rebels in Libya, Tunisia, Yemen, and Bahrain, but not the Palestinians, since they face the State of Israel,? Liel said, adding that it was ?painful to see a President like Obama giving Abbas ? who had walked the diplomatic path for three years ? a sort of black eye in the General Assembly.?
The former Foreign Ministry official also described a recent visit of several prominent Israeli writers to Abbas? Ramallah office, where they urged the Palestinian leader: ?Don?t buckle from under the pressure.??Haaretz