Abbas says UN bid for Palestinian state is no ‘stunt’

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Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas is committed to pursuing an independent state through negotiations
© AFP/File Abbas Momani

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) – Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas said on Tuesday that a bid to win international recognition for a Palestinian state is not a “stunt” and would contribute to achieving peace with Israel.

The United States and Israel have criticized the Palestinian move to seek a UN General Assembly vote in September on recognizing a state in land occupied by Israel in 1967.

They have insisted on direct negotiations to end the Middle East conflict. But Palestinians leaders say their new diplomatic push is motivated by the failure of talks and Israel’s settlement expansion.

“Our quest for recognition as a state should not be seen as a stunt; too many of our men and women have been lost for us to engage in such political theater,” Abbas wrote in an op-ed in the New York Times.

“We go to the United Nations now to secure the right to live free in the remaining 22 percent of our historic homeland because we have been negotiating with the state of Israel for 20 years without coming any closer to realizing a state of our own,” he wrote.

He was referring to the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank, including Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, territories seized by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War.

“We cannot wait indefinitely while Israel continues to send more settlers to the occupied West Bank and denies Palestinians access to most of our land and holy places, particularly in Jerusalem.

“Neither political pressure nor promises of rewards by the United States have stopped Israel’s settlement program.”

Abbas and top Palestinian representatives have been seeking support for recognition in recent weeks at the United Nations and in world capitals. Diplomats said that no final decision on pressing for a vote has yet been taken.

Arab nations sought a Security Council resolution in February condemning Israeli settlements. It had majority backing on the 15 nation council but was vetoed by the United States.

European powers, which backed the resolution in February and sought a new international peace drive, have highlighted that any vote in the General Assembly would not change the deadlock. “It would just be a piece of paper,” said one UN ambassador, speaking on condition of anonymity.

But Abbas said a Palestinian state would be ready to negotiate the “core issues” of the conflict with Israel.

“Palestine would be negotiating from the position of one United Nations member whose territory is militarily occupied by another, however, and not as a vanquished people ready to accept whatever terms are put in front of us.”

He said recognition would also “pave the way for us to pursue claims against Israel at the United Nations, human rights treaty bodies and the International Court of Justice.”

Fourteen people were killed and hundreds wounded on Sunday when Palestinian refugees crossed into Israel from Syria, others sought to cross from Lebanon and police clashed with protesters in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinians had been marking the anniversary of Israel’s creation in 1948, an event they refer to as the “nakba”, or “catastrophe”, because it resulted in some 700,000 people fleeing or being driven out of what is now the Jewish state. Abbas himself fled from the northern town of Safed.