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Abbas: We're going to the Security Council

Sept. 16, 2011 6:36 P.M. (Updated: Sept. 18, 2011 3:04 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- President Mahmoud Abbas said Friday in a televised address from Ramallah that the Palestinians would seek full membership in the UN Security Council.

"We are going to the United Nations to request our legitimate right, obtaining full membership for Palestine in this organization," Abbas said.

"We are going to the Security Council," he added, to rapturous applause from his audience of Palestinian leaders. "As for other options, we have not yet taken a decision on them," he said.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad swiftly criticized the speech and Abbas' initiative at the UN.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the speech was an effort in marketing for a return to peace talks with Israel, while going to the UN to seek membership served the same goal.

Abbas is placing unilateral steps ahead of the Palestinians' fate, he told Ma'an.

Barhoum said Hamas would play no part in an initiative premised on recognizing Israel or giving up on Palestinian rights such as the right of return and right to self-determination.

Abbas' references to reconciliation contrast with unilateral actions he is taking out of step with the national consensus, Barhoum added, whereas Hamas wants a national strategy backed by the region.

The United States and Israel are also firmly opposed to any Palestinian move at the UN, arguing that a Palestinian state can only be created through direct negotiations.

Washington has already said it will veto any statehood resolution in the Security Council and some US politicians have said they will try to cut American aid to the Palestinians, totaling some $500 million a year, if they refuse to back down.

A statement from Netanyahu's office issued after the speech said the Palestinians were "systematically" avoiding direct talks with Israel.

Abbas said recognition as a state would allow a return to peace talks, but on a stronger footing. "Negotiations, no matter how difficult, will be between one state and another."

A flurry of diplomacy led predominantly by the European Union has sought to avert the UN showdown by seeking a deal that would bring about a return to talks within weeks, diplomats say. However, the mediation is struggling in the face of long-standing disagreements over the terms of reference.

Islamic Jihad: Reconciliation over UN gambit

Failing that, the EU has also been trying to avoid a Security Council confrontation by persuading the Palestinians to accept a diluted upgrade to their status at the United Nations, where they are currently recognized as an "entity".

If Washington does veto the resolution, as expected, the Palestinians could then go to the full UN General Assembly. It does not have the power to grant them full membership, but could recognize Palestine as a non-member state.

Such a move would give the Palestinians possible access to other international bodies, including the International Criminal Court, from where it could seek to sue Israel over its longtime occupation of the West Bank.

Abbas said there was no decision on alternative options the Palestinians could pursue in the event of failure.

"If we succeed, and this is what we are working towards, then we must know that the day following the recognition of the state, the occupation will not end," Abbas said.

"But we will have obtained the world's recognition that our state is occupied and that our land is occupied and not disputed territory, as the Israeli government claims," he said.

Islamic Jihad said Abbas contradicted himself during the announcement in Ramallah, particularly when noting that negotiations reached a dead end while insisting he was ready to start them again.

Spokesman Daoud Shehab said going to the Security Council would accomplish little for the Palestinians. Instead, Abbas should focus implementing a reconciliation deal signed in May, he said.

The Arab League on Tuesday threw its support behind Abbas's initiative. Arab foreign ministers, who began efforts in July to organize backing for the Palestinian bid, decided to set up a team comprising the League head and six League members to further pursue the controversial statehood application.

Long criticized at home for appearing weak in the face foreign pressure, Abbas signalled no retreat from his plan.

"You certainly don't believe me," he joked during the speech, adding that he would present the application after delivering his speech to the General Assembly on Sept. 23 -- when Netanyahu is also addressing the gathering.

He also stressed that any popular protests in support of his initiative should be peaceful. Israel fears that the UN showdown could spark violence across the West Bank and is putting its forces on high alert in the area.

A French government official warned of a race against time.

"What (Europeans) would like is the relaunch of peace talks. Our feeling is that time is running out for peace and even more so with the Arab Spring," he said, alluding to popular revolutions in several Arab countries this year.

"These states will be democratic countries that will have to consider public opinion even more ... Today we still have a window of opportunity for peace but the feeling is that if these renewed peace talks don't happen then the Palestinian territories, which are fairly calm (now), could explode."

Reuters contributed to this report.
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