“My people desire to exercise their right to enjoy a normal life like the rest of humanity,” Abbas said.
But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, later taking his turn to address the General Assembly, said Palestinians are looking for a “state without peace” that he argued would continue to threaten his tiny nation’s security.
He said Palestinians are not armed only with their “hopes and dreams,” as Abbas said in his speech. To that he added “10,000 missiles, and Grad rockets supplied by Iran, not to mention the river of lethal weapons flowing into Gaza.”
“Palestinians should first make peace with Israel, and then get their state,” he said.
Abbas’ speech provoked cheers and chants of “With all our souls we sacrifice for the state of Palestine” from flag-waving Palestinians who watched the address on a big-screen television in a square in Ramallah, in the West Bank.
Moments after handing over a formal letter seeking full United Nations membership, Abbas said Israel continues to stymie peace, so it is time for the United Nations to act.
“We aspire for and seek a greater and more effective role for the United Nations in working to achieve a just and comprehensive peace in our region that ensures the inalienable, legitimate national rights of the Palestinian people,” said Abbas, who was greeted with a long round of applause as he took the rostrum.
The speech was closely watched across the Middle East. The hundreds who gathered in Ramallah greeted the news that he had formally filed the statehood request with cheers, song and dance.
Mass demonstrations are planned for Friday in New York and are expected across the Middle East.
U.S. Embassies across the region warned citizens to avoid the expected demonstrations, saying they could turn violent with little warning.
An increased police presence was visible in Jerusalem, where the military had stockpiled riot-control gear against the possibility of greater violence.
Ahead of the speech, Palestinian youths lobbed rocks and bottles at Israeli security forces at a West Bank security checkpoint leading to Jerusalem, a fairly routine Friday occurrence. There were no injuries, but rock-throwing between Israeli citizens and Palestinians in Qusra led to three injuries, one of them fatal, according to the Israel Defense Forces.
Abbas to submit U.N. membership letter
No immediate action is expected on Abbas’ request that Palestine become a member state of the international body, and such a U.N. declaration is almost certainly doomed to failure: In addition to Israel’s opposition, the United States has vowed to veto the effort if necessary in the Security Council.
Ashrawi: Palestine needs intl. law
“Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the U.N.,” President Barack Obama said in a speech to delegates at the General Assembly on Thursday. “If it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now.”
Obama and Abbas met on Wednesday as part of behind-the-scenes diplomatic efforts that have accompanied the Palestinian statehood request. He said he supports Palestinian statehood, but reiterated the long-standing U.S. position that Israel must be part of the discussions.
Israel has described the bid as counterproductive to the peace process, and has called for a resumption of talks to begin in New York and to be continued in Ramallah and Jerusalem.
While a U.S. veto would block any effort to gain full U.N. membership, the General Assembly could vote to upgrade the status of Palestinians, who are currently part of the U.N. as a non-voting observer “entity.” The General Assembly could change that status to permanent observer “state,” identical to the Vatican’s status in the United Nations.
Despite a breathtaking year of change that has seen popular revolutions mark political upheaval in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and other nations, talk of Palestinian statehood has dominated the General Assembly’s session this week.
The membership effort sends a strong message by Abbas to Palestinians that he is working to advance the Palestinians’ cause, said Steven Cook, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations
“Right now, he’s thinking about his domestic political situation in order to maintain his position,” Cook said. “So he’s not eaten alive.”