Palestinian President Asks U.N. For State Recognition

The president of the Palestinian Authority has asked the U.N. to recognize his state. The Israelis say such a move would violate past agreements and are threatening retaliation. U.S. and European diplomats are scrambling to head off what could be a diplomatic train wreck.

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And I'm Michele Norris. In the West Bank, there is elation; in Israel, an icy reaction. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas made good on his promise to apply for full membership of the United Nations today. Israel says the move undercuts past agreements between the two sides. The U.S., Europeans and others had frantically tried to avoid this all week, viewing it as a diplomatic train wreck. NPR's Michele Kelemen was in the U.N. General Assembly today.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas received a sustained standing ovation from many delegations in the General Assembly Hall as he held up a letter asking for U.N. membership.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

KELEMEN: He's seeking membership as a state on land Israel has occupied since 1967, with East Jerusalem as the capital. Speaking through an interpreter, Abbas made clear that he came out of frustration, having knocked on every door and listened to every proposal.

P: (Through Translator) But all of these sincere efforts and endeavors undertaken by international parties were repeatedly smashed against the rock of the positions of the Israeli government, which quickly dashed the hopes raised by the launch of negotiations last September.

KELEMEN: He blasted Israel for - as he put it - frantically building Jewish settlements on the future state of Palestine, and for demolishing Arab homes in East Jerusalem. Enough, enough, enough, he chanted, calling for an end to the Israeli occupation and accusing Israel of trying to entrench it.

ABBAS: (Through Translator) The occupation is racing against time to redraw the borders on our land according to what it wants, and to impose a fait accompli on the ground that changes the realities and undermines the realistic potential for the rise of the state of Palestine.

KELEMEN: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not in the hall when Abbas spoke. Nor was Abbas when Netanyahu took the rostrum.

P: I extend my hand to the Palestinian people, with whom we seek a just and lasting peace.

KELEMEN: He acknowledged that may not be the image Israel has in the United Nations, which Netanyahu describes as a theater of the absurd where Israel is always cast as the villain. The Israeli prime minister said he came to speak the truth.

NETANYAHU: The truth is that we cannot achieve peace through U.N. resolutions, but only through direct negotiations between the parties. 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 one state without peace. And the truth is, you shouldn't let that happen.

KELEMEN: The U.S. has vowed to veto the Palestinian membership request if it comes up for a vote in the Security Council, but diplomats are hoping they can use this time now to get talks under way. Netanyahu says he's accepted the U.S. ideas about that.

NETANYAHU: President Abbas, why don't you join me? We have to stop negotiating about the negotiations. Let's just get on with it. Let's negotiate peace.

KELEMEN: Netanyahu says he was willing to meet Abbas in New York, but Palestinians brushed that off as theatrics and blamed Israel for the stalemate. So, too, did other influential speakers, including Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who recently downgraded relations with Israel. In his speech to the U.N. this week, Erdogan, through an interpreter, called on Israel to look around and see what's happening in the region.

P: (Through Translator) You must read the newly flourishing political and human geography in the Middle East, and understand that it will no longer be possible to carry on in an environment of continuous strife and conflict.

KELEMEN: Late today, the quartet of would-be Middle East peacemakers - the U.S., European Union, Russia and the United Nations - laid out a plan to resume Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. It said the two sides should reach a deal within a year. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the United Nations.

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