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Abbas stakes Palestinian claim to state at U.N.

Sep 23, 2011, 7:12 p.m.
Palestinians gesture during a public screening of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' speech at the United Nations, in the West Bank city of Ramallah September 23, 2011. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

By Alistair Lyon and Arshad Mohammed

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas asked the United Nations on Friday to recognize a state for his people, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed the world body as a "theater of the absurd" and said only direct talks could deliver peace.

Abbas handed U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon a letter requesting full U.N. membership, which the Security Council will discuss on Monday. The United States has vowed to support its Israeli ally and use its veto if a vote is held.

"I do not believe that anyone with a shred of conscience can reject our application ... and our admission as an independent state," Abbas told the U.N. General Assembly in an impassioned speech that won a standing ovation even as Israeli and U.S. delegates looked on stone-faced.

Trying to head off a clash in the Security Council, a quartet of Middle East mediators urged a return to peace talks within four weeks, "substantial progress" within six months and an agreement to be struck within a year.

Highlighting the divisions in the Palestinian camp, Hamas, the Islamist faction which rules the Gaza Strip, rejected Abbas' move as "begging" for statehood. "States are not built upon U.N. resolutions. States liberate their land and establish their entities," said Hamas spokesman Ismail Haniyeh.

The Quartet -- the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations -- asked Israel and the Palestinians to submit proposals on territory and security within three months.

"The Quartet proposal represents the firm conviction of the international community that a just and lasting peace can only come through negotiations," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, urging both sides to seize the chance to talk.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the Quartet's special envoy, said the major powers believed they were closing in on guidelines that both sides could accept.

But previous proposed timetables for negotiations, such as a one-year deadline set by former U.S. President George W. Bush in 2007 and one by Obama a year ago, have run into the sand.

Abbas' statehood ploy exposes waning U.S. influence in a region shaken by Arab revolts and shifting alliances that have pushed Israel, still militarily strong, deeper into isolation.

In their speeches, Abbas and Netanyahu both said they extended their hands to the other party, but each blamed their opponents for the failure of past peace efforts.

"We cannot achieve peace through U.N. resolutions," Netanyahu said, demanding that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state, something they reject because they say that would prejudice the rights of Palestinian refugees.

Netanyahu offered to meet Abbas immediately in New York, minutes after Abbas said settlement activity must cease first.

LOSS OF FAITH

The Palestinians say they will give the Security Council "some time" to consider their request, but if that fails may ask the General Assembly for upgraded status short of full membership that could let them join international bodies.

Abbas' statehood bid reflects a loss of faith after 20 years of failed peace talks sponsored by the United States and alarm at Israeli settlement expansion in occupied land Palestinians want for a state.

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