Abbas: Palestine to go to UN in September
Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, has said that without a renewal of peace talks with Israel, the Palestinians will seek UN recognition.
Abbas's comments, on Wednesday, came a day after a major speech by Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister.
"Our first choice is negotiations, but if there is no progress before September we will go to the United Nations," Abbas said, slamming Netanyahu's speech to the US Congress on Tuesday, which, he said, was devoid of any new incentive to restart peace talks.
The Palestinian leader said Netanyahu's speech only served to add obstacles on the road to peace and contained "errors and distortions".
The Israeli leader, who addressed Congress on the last day of a trip to Washington, said he was willing to make "painful compromises" for peace.
But he ruled out a division of Jerusalem, the return of Palestinian refugees, and the possibility of using the borders that existed before 1967 as a basis for peace negotiations.
Earlier, in a key policy speech on Thursday, Barack Obama, the US president, had called for new talks based on the lines in place before the 1967 Six Day War.
But Netanyahu used the trip to reject the 1967 lines as "indefensible" and insisted that Israel would never accept them as a basis for negotiations.
Officials in the West Bank city of Ramallah said the speech had only added more "obstacles" on the path to peace.
Meanwhile, Gaza's Islamist Hamas rulers said Netanyahu had laid down conditions which were "impossible" for the Palestinians to meet.
"There is nothing new in Netanyahu's speech except that he is adding obstacles on the road towards a genuine, serious, lasting and comprehensive peace," said Nabil Abu Rudeina, spokesman for Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
Peace, Rudeina said, required international benchmarks such as recognition of the borders of 1967 as the basis for any peace negotiations.
Jibril Rajoub, a senior official of Abbas's Fatah movement, told the AFP news agency that the address revealed the "true face" of Netanyahu and his ruling right-wing Likud party, which he described as "a danger to regional stability and international peace".
And Taher al-Nunu, a spokesman for the Hamas-run government in the Gaza Strip, said it proved Netanyahu "doesn't want any peace process and that he is setting impossible conditions for the Palestinians to meet."
He also said that Netanyahu was "trying to deceive the world by speaking of the possibility of recognising a Palestinian state while destroying its foundations" by rejecting a return to the 1967 borders, by refusing to give up East Jerusalem, and by ruling out any return for the Palestinian refugees.
The Israeli leader had been expected to make some kind of gesture to prevent the Palestinians from pursuing a diplomatic campaign to win UN recognition, in a move expected to take place in September.
But Netanyahu said: "The Palestinian attempt to impose a settlement through the United Nations will not bring peace. It should be forcefully opposed by all those who want to see this conflict end."
Palestinian negotiator Mohammed Shtayeh said the speech had left Palestinians with one choice - "to go to the UN in September, to the General Assembly".
The Israeli leader also took aim at the recently-signed reconciliation deal between Abbas's secular Fatah movement and Hamas, which does not recognise the state of Israel.
"I say to President Abbas: Tear up your pact with Hamas. Sit down and negotiate. Make peace with the Jewish state," he said.
"And if you do, I promise you this: Israel will not be the last country to welcome a Palestinian state as a new member of the United Nations - it will be the first."
But Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri dismissed his remarks as "arrogant."
"The true response to this arrogant speech which denies Palestinian rights should be the complete ending of all negotiation and the implementation of reconciliation as soon as possible," Zuhri said.
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