President Mahmoud Abbas says time has come to end the suffering and the plight of millions of Palestinians
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has handed over a historic request to UN chief Ban Ki-moon, asking the United Nations to admit the state of Palestine as a full member.
The Palestinian leader won huge applause and a standing ovation on Friday as he entered the hall just after submitting the membership request.
“I call upon the distinguished members of the Security Council to vote in favour of our full membership,” Abbas told the UN General Assembly.
“I do not believe that anyone with a shred of conscience can reject our application for a full membership in the United Nations and our admission as an independent state,” Abbas said.
In his address, Abbas said he was ready to return to negotiations based on the 1967 borders, saying he did not want to isolate or delegitimise Israel.
“Here I declare that the Palestine Liberation Organisation is ready to return immediately to the negotiating table on the basis of the adopted terms of reference … and a complete cessation of settlement activities,” he told the UN General Assembly.
But he maintained previous peace talks were “smashed against the rocks of the positions of the Israeli government, which quickly dashed the hopes raised by the launch of negotiations last September”.
Palestinians across the West Bank celebrated the formal submission of their bid to become a United Nations member state, despite opposition from the United States and Israel.
In city centres, giant television screens were set up so residents could watch Abbas deliver a historic address to the 193 member states of the UN General Assembly.
In Ramallah, the political capital of the West Bank, many cars were flying the Palestinian flag. Posters of Abbas and his predecessor, the late Yasser Arafat, festooned in the streets, as the crowd swelled to the largest seen in Ramallah since Arafat’s funeral in 2004.
“I’ve heard a chant tonight that I’ve never heard before,” Al Jazeera’s Cal Perry, reporting from Ramallah, said. “People are chanting for Mahmoud Abbas. His speech was really playing to the next generation.”
“Tonight we have seen spontaneous shows of support for Abbas, who has sometimes seen cascading public support.”
Near the Muqataa, Abbas’s presidential headquarters, flags of the more than 125 nations that have recognised a Palestinian state flew in a circle around a Palestinian flag.
In a sign of mounting tension earlier on Friday, one Palestinian man died after being shot by Israeli troops who intervened in a clash between villagers and Jewish settlers south of the West Bank city of Nablus.
In the southern city of Hebron, the municipality building was draped with a three-metre poster of Abbas and “Palestine 194”, and similar decorations were hung in the northern cities of Nablus and Jenin.
At the Qalandia checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem, the Israeli army fired tear gas into the crowds, with a military spokeswoman saying “around 100 rioters” were throwing stones at the troops.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that clashes also broke out in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Ras Al-Amud.
In Nabi Saleh village, protesters chanted support for the UN bid, but activists also burnt a picture of Barack Obama, the US president, who has vowed to veto the membership bid at the UN Security Council.
Full membership bid
Full UN membership can only be bestowed by the Security Council where Abbas’ request will almost certainly be derailed, either by a failure to win the needed nine votes in the 15-member body or, if the necessary majority is obtained, by a veto.
The Palestinians say they are seeking full UN membership to underscore their right to statehood, but have left open the option of a lesser alternative – a non-member observer state.
Such status would be granted by the General Assembly, where the Palestinians maintain broad support.
Siding with Israel, Obama has said a Palestinian state can only be established as a result of negotiations, and that there is no short-cut to Palestinian independence.
“I extend my hand to the Palestinian people,” Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said during his own address to the General Assembly, shortly after Abbas’ speech.
“The truth is that Israel wants peace. The truth is that I want peace,” he said.
Abbas has said negotiations remain his preference, but that he will not resume talks – frozen since 2008 – unless Israel agrees to the pre-1967 frontier as a baseline and freezes all settlement construction on occupied land.
“The American administration did everything in its power to disrupt our project, but we are going through with it despite the obstacles and the pressure because we are asking for our rights,” Abbas said late on Thursday.
“There are small countries in the world that have gained their freedom and independence, but we still haven’t got ours,” he told the Palestinian community in New York.
Palestinian state television has carried wall-to-wall coverage of the diplomatic drama playing out in New York, interviewing local officials and politicians and running a series of advertisements backing the UN membership push.
One featured a jigsaw puzzle of the globe as depicted in the UN logo, but with with a missing piece.
From the side of the screen, a piece in the colours of the Palestinian flag flies across and slots into place, completing the puzzle.
The three main Palestinian newspapers also dedicated their front pages to the bid, and the inside pages were dotted with paid advertisements from individuals and businesses expressing their support for Abbas and the UN move.
“The president delivers his speech to the General Assembly and presents a request for recognition of the state of Palestine,” read the headline in Al-Quds newspaper, emblazoned over pictures of pro-bid demonstrations.
Another cartoon in the paper used the famous image of US soldiers raising their flag during the battle of Iwo Jima, replacing the US flag with the Palestinian one and the soldiers with Palestinians, some in traditional garb.
Al-Ayyam’s headline read: “The president presents a request for full membership for Palestine in front of the world”, while on the back, a cartoon showed Abbas at the UN podium shouting into a loudspeaker: “Freedom for Palestine”.
In the Gaza Strip, however, life was continuing as normal with no sign of any activity to mark the UN bid, which has not been backed by the territory’s Hamas rulers.
Al Jazeera’s Nicole Johnston said Hamas security officials cracked down on people watching the Abbas address in Gaza City cafes.
Our correspondent also said police confiscated Palestinian flags that crowds were waving in the streets.
Speaking hours before the Abbas address, senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said the UN bid would not bring independence.
“Our Palestinian people do not beg for a state … States are not built upon UN resolutions. States liberate their land and establish their entities,” he said.
Al Jazeera and agencies
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