UNITED NATIONS: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Thursday that “time is running out” for Middle East peace efforts and urged world powers to rein in Israeli settlement construction that he said could undermine U.S.-sponsored negotiations.
In an address to an annual gathering of world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly, Abbas committed to negotiating with Israel in good faith but he also painted what he called a “dispiriting and bleak” picture for peace prospects.
Abbas’ assessment came one day after Secretary of State John Kerry suggested a more hopeful outlook, saying the two sides had agreed to intensify talks and increase the American role.
The resumption of peace talks in July was an achievement for Kerry, but many Israelis and Palestinians – as well as independent experts – are skeptical about the chances of reaching a peace deal in their decades-old conflict.
“Time is running out, and the window of peace is narrowing and the opportunities are diminishing,” Abbas said. “The current round of negotiations appears to be a last chance to realize a just peace.”
Abbas was loudly applauded when he opened his speech by saying he was honored to address the General Assembly for the first time since it raised Palestine’s status to a nonmember observer state last year “in the name of the state of Palestine.”
Before and after his speech, he was accorded the same honors as other world leaders.
U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said the U.N. legal affairs office had looked into whether Abbas would be allowed to use the head of state’s chair near the podium of the General Assembly hall and decided that as a nonmember observer state, he was.
Nesirky said the legal precedent was that the pope had been allowed to use the chair when he addressed the General Assembly as head of the Holy See, which is also a nonmember state.
Israel, which opposes the observer status, did not send officials to any speeches Thursday as it fell on a Jewish holiday.
But he also urged Israelis to abandon “exaggerated security pretexts and obsessions.”
Israeli security concerns focus mainly on Gaza, where Hamas – a militant group sworn to Israel’s destruction – rules instead of Abbas’s mainstream Palestinian Authority.He reserved his toughest criticism for Jewish settlement building on occupied land that the Palestinians want for a state of their own, saying it “aims to change the facts on the ground” and has fractured the concept of the so-called two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The United States is seeking to broker an agreement in which Israel would exist peacefully alongside a new Palestinian state created in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, lands occupied by the Israelis since a 1967 war.
“The international community is asked to remain alert to condemn and stop any actions on the ground that would undermine negotiations – and I refer here, above all, to the continuation of settlement construction on our Palestinian land, particularly in Jerusalem,” Abbas said.
The future of settlements is one of the key issues that must be resolved.
The last round of peace talks collapsed in 2010 in a dispute over settlement construction in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as their capital.
About 350,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank, along with some 2.5 million Palestinians, who say that the settlements deny them a viable and contiguous state.
The World Court has deemed the settlements to be illegal. Israel disagrees.
Abbas met U.S. President Barack Obama Wednesday on the U.N. sidelines.