UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The Palestinian leader took his people’s quest for independence to the heart of world diplomacy Friday, seeking U.N. recognition of Palestine and sidestepping negotiations that have foundered for nearly two decades under the weight of inflexibility, violence and failure of will.
The bid to win recognition of a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem — submitted over the objections of the U.S. — laid bare the deep sense of Palestinian exasperation after 44 years of Israeli occupation.
“The time is now for the Palestinian Spring, the time for independence,” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared.
“The time has come to end the suffering and the plight of millions of Palestine refugees in the homeland and the diaspora, to end their displacement and to realize their rights.”
After Abbas submitted his formal application, international mediators called on Israel and the Palestinians to return to long-stalled negotiations and reach an agreement no later than next year. The Quartet — the U.S., European Union, U.N. and Russia — urged both parties to draw up an agenda for peace talks within a month and produce comprehensive proposals on territory and security within three months.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the proposal “represents the firm conviction of the international community that a just and lasting peace can only come through negotiations between the parties.”
Similar plans have failed to produce a peace agreement, and it was unclear how the two sides could bridge their huge differences and resume talks.
The Quartet statement was radically different from what diplomats had been hoping to draft since it became clear that Abbas would not back down. U.S. and European officials had been trying to craft a statement that would outline parameters of the negotiations, including a reference to borders being based on the 1967 lines and affirm Israel’s identity as a Jewish state.
Instead, the Quartet focused on proposing deadlines.
World sympathy for the Palestinian cause was evident from the thunderous applause that greeted Abbas as he mounted the dais in the General Assembly hall to deliver a speech that laid out his grievances against the Israeli occupation and why he felt compelled to take his appeal directly to the U.N.
In a scathing denunciation of Israel’s settlement policy, Abbas declared negotiations with Israel “will be meaningless” as long as it continues building on lands the Palestinians claim. He went so far as to warn 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 Abbas, who has refused to negotiate until the construction stops. “This settlement policy threatens to also undermine the structure of the Palestinian National Authority and even end its existence.”
He ignored any Palestinian culpability for the negotiations stalemate, deadly violence against Israel, and the internal rift that has produced dueling governments in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as Jewish links to the Holy Land. Some members of the Israeli delegation, including Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, walked out of the hall as Abbas went to the podium.
Abbas declared himself willing to immediately return to the bargaining table, but with long-standing conditions: Israel must first stop building on lands the Palestinians claim and agree to negotiate borders based on lines it held before capturing the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem in 1967. Israel rejects those conditions and has defied international pressure to freeze settlement construction. It has staked out bargaining positions that are extremely distant from anything the Palestinians would accept.