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Palestinian Abbas Pares His Statehood Aspirations at UN

Palestinian Abbas Pares His Statehood Aspirations in UN Speech
Expressing “anger” at the state of affairs, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said chances for a two-state solution were disappearing. Photographer: John Moore/Getty Images

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas appeared to put off efforts to achieve full statehood at the United Nations as he told the world body time is running out for a lasting peace with Israel.

The 77-year-old Abbas, facing a cash crisis at home, returned today to the setting where last year he waved an application for statehood recognition from the podium of the United Nations General Assembly. This time, Abbas is seeking a limited upgrade from observer “entity” to “non-member state” in the 193-member General Assembly.

Abbas offered no timeline and gave little sense of urgency, an indication he will hold off on any new initiatives until after the U.S. elections in November.

“We have begun intensive consultations with various regional organizations and member states aimed at having the General Assembly adopt a resolution considering the State of Palestine as a non-member state of the United Nations during this session,” Abbas said in the UN hall.

“In our endeavor, we do not seek to delegitimize an existing State -- that is Israel; but rather to assert the state that must be realized -- that is Palestine,” he said in the English text of his remarks.

While becoming a non-member state may open the door for the Palestinian Authority to sign treaties such as the Rome Statute that set up the International Criminal Court, it would alienate the U.S., the UN’s biggest financial contributor and a key aid donor to the Palestinians.

Funds Cut

When the Palestinian Authority was accepted last year into the UN cultural agency Unesco, best known for its designation of “world heritage” sites, the U.S. response was to cut off funding that provides almost a quarter of the agency’s budget. The U.S. has said that American law would require similar cutoffs for any UN agency that grants the Palestinians the same status as member states.

“Developments over the past year have confirmed what we have persistently drawn attention to and warned of: the catastrophic danger of the racist Israeli settlement of our country, Palestine,” Abbas said today.

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke less than an hour later, he responded, “We won’t solve our conflict with libelous speeches at the UN. We won’t solve our conflict with unilateral declarations of statehood.”

‘Mutual Compromise’

“We have to sit together, negotiate together, and reach a mutual compromise, in which a demilitarized Palestinian state recognizes the one and only Jewish state,” Netanyahu said.

Still, Netanyahu, who last year devoted his rhetoric to fending off the Palestinian statehood bid, this year focused most of his attention on convincing the leaders gathered that military action may be required to stop Iran’s nuclear program from advancing.

The dispute over Iran has drawn attention away from the difficulties facing the Palestinians.

Deteriorating economic conditions in the West Bank have fueled social-welfare protests. In the Gaza Strip, the Palestinians say the situation is becoming untenable.

Palestinians are also no closer to achieving statehood, either in terms of territory or UN recognition, and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is moribund.

No ‘Serious’ Talks

Abbas acknowledged as much today, attacking Netanyahu for not wanting to engage in “serious” peace negotiations. The last round of direct talks broke down in 2010 over the issue of limiting Jewish settlements in Palestinian areas.

In what appeared to be a gesture to Netanyahu, Abbas cited the Holy Land’s connection to Muhammed, Jesus and Abraham. Last year he omitted Abraham, the biblical progenitor of both Jews and Muslims, from his UN address -- a slight noted by Netanyahu when he said, “We are both sons of Abraham.”

Expressing “anger” at the state of affairs, Abbas said chances for a two-state solution were disappearing. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon this week also said “the door may be closing” on that option.

“Despite all the complexities of the prevailing reality and all the frustrations that abound, we say before the international community: there is still a chance -- maybe the last -- to save the two-state solution and to salvage peace,” Abbas said.

-- With assistance from Fadwa Hodali in Ramallah Editors: Larry Liebert, Terry Atlas

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