THE Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has staked his people's claim to full statehood at the United Nations.
The historic move yesterday was designed to mobilise international pressure on Israel and outflank the US, whose sponsorship of the peace process has been unable to deliver the longed-for two-state solution in the Middle East.
The cheers and standing ovation that greeted Mr Abbas's declaration to the General Assembly was a raucous riposte to the US, whose diplomats had worked for weeks to try to head off a Palestinian application for full recognition.
But while the application was greeted warmly in the halls of the UN, and with pride among Mr Abbas's supporters on the streets of the Palestinian territories, it is only the first step in a process whose outcome is still far from clear.
The US has vowed to veto Palestinian statehood at the Security Council, and last night there was still no clear timetable for when the council will consider the plan. The US, the UK and other countries still hope to delay consideration for long enough to allow the resumption of peace talks.
Mr Abbas came to the UN, he said, to declare "after 63 years of suffering of an ongoing tragedy: enough, enough, enough. It is time for the Palestinian people to gain their freedom and their independence... We have one goal: to be. And we shall be."
He warned that the lack of progress in peace talks, plus the continued presence of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, could scupper the Palestinian Authority of which he is president, robbing the Israelis of a viable partner in peace.
"Our people will continue their popular, peaceful resistance," Mr Abbas said. "This (Israeli settlement) policy will destroy the chances of achieving a two-state solution and... threatens to undermine the structure of the Palestinian National Authority and even end its existence."
The warning appeared to be part of a deliberate plan to raise the stakes and loosen the logjam on peace talks. One Palestinian negotiator, talking on local radio before Mr Abbas's speech, threatened to hand back control of the West Bank to Israel.
Soon afterwards, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu followed him to the podium to argue that only direct negotiations could bring peace -- a stance backed by US President Barack Obama earlier this week.
"I extend my hand to the Palestinian people," Mr Netanyahu told the 193-nation assembly. "The truth is that Israel wants peace, the truth is that I want peace." However, he added: "We cannot achieve peace through UN resolutions."
Thousands of jubilant Palestinians thronged around outdoor television screens in town squares across the West Bank to watch their president submit his historic request for recognition. In Ramallah, a flag-waving crowd packed into the downtown area to show support. (©Independent News Service)