POSTED: Friday, September 16, 2011 - 9:04pm
UPDATED: Friday, September 16, 2011 - 11:44pm
RAMALLAH, West Bank — The Palestinian president said Friday he would ask the U.N. Security Council next week to endorse his people's decades-long quest for statehood but emphasized that he did not seek to isolate or delegitimize Israel.
Mahmoud Abbas' plan to seek full membership at United Nations and bypass negotiations with Israel sets the stage for a diplomatic confrontation with Israel and the United States, which has indicated it would veto the measure in the Security Council.
Abbas appeared to leave himself some wiggle room in his address to the Palestinian people before departing for the annual U.N. General Assembly session in New York next week, saying he did not rule out other, unspecified options. Those could include seeking a lesser, "nonmember state" observer status from the General Assembly, a more easily obtainable goal.
He also acknowledged that his U.N. move would not end the Israeli occupation and cautioned against outsize hopes.
"We don't want to raise expectations by saying we are going to come back with full independence," Abbas said in an address to Palestinian leaders. He said he was going to the United Nations to "ask the world to shoulder its responsibilities" by backing the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.
Abbas urged the Palestinian people to refrain from violence, saying "anything other than peaceful moves will harm us and sabotage our endeavors."
And he asserted twice that his aim was not to isolate or delegitimize Israel — a charge Israel often levels at the Palestinians and their supporters.
"No one can isolate Israel. No one can delegitimize Israel. It is a recognized state," he said. "We want to delegitimze the occupation, not the state of Israel. The occupation is the nightmare of our existence."
Both the U.S. and Israel fear the U.N. move could lead to violence and other negative consequences and stress that statehood should come about through negotiations, the cornerstone of Mideast peace efforts for the past two decades. The Palestinians already are planning two mass demonstrations in the West Bank next week, though they insist the marches will be peaceful.
The Palestinians say they are turning to the U.N. after concluding that peace talks will yield no breakthrough at this point. Although the U.N. move will not change things on the ground, they hope it will give them greater leverage in future negotiations with Israel by elevating their international profile.
With a U.S. veto assured in the Security Council, the Palestinians would likely seek "nonmember state" status from the General Assembly, where the Palestinians would only need a simple majority of those present and voting. Abbas said more than 125 of the assembly's 193 members have pledged to support the Palestinians in their statehood bid.
Application for either status likely would take weeks, if not months, to come to a vote.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki said Thursday that Abbas would submit his statehood bid to U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon after addressing the General Assembly on Sept. 23.
After the speech, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Abbas of dodging direct talks.
"Peace is not achieved through unilateral approaches to the U.N. or by joining forces with the Hamas terror organization," Netanyahu said in a statement, referring to a recent, unimplemented agreement between Abbas and the violently anti-Israel group that rules Gaza to unite their rival governments. "Peace can only be achieved through direct negotiations with Israel."
Talks between Israel and the Palestinians stalled almost three years ago, reviving only briefly with three-week round that broke down last September after the expiration of a slowdown in Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank. Palestinians say the continued construction on lands they want for a future state compromises its viability, and they want it to stop completely as a condition for restarting talks.
Israel has rejected that demand.
The U.S. has been at the forefront of an international diplomatic scramble this week to get Israelis and Palestinians talking instead of sparring at the U.N. While Palestinian leaders have not closed the door on the prospect of a compromise, the chances of breakthrough appear slim.
The prospect of a veto would put Washington in the embarrassing position of voting against a concept the Obama administration approves of in principle: The establishment of a Palestinian state whose borders will be negotiated from the starting point of the lines Israel held before capturing the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem in 1967.
Israel still occupies the West Bank and east Jerusalem. It withdrew soldiers and settlers from Gaza in 2005, but restricts the entry and exit of goods there through land crossings and a naval blockade.
The White House announced on Friday that President Barack Obama would meet with Netanyahu on the sidelines of next week's United Nations General Assembly meetings in New York. The White House said there currently were no plans for Obama to formally meet with Abbas.
Although the future state Abbas envisions would include Gaza, in practice, the territory is ruled by Hamas militants who call for Israel's destruction and seized the territory from Abbas loyalists in a violent 2007 takeover.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum derided Abbas' speech as a "tactic to return to negotiations with the government of the Zionist occupation" that was undertaken without consulting with other Palestinian factions.