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Sep 26, 2014 6:12 PM

Palestinian leader in new UN bid to end occupation

The Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS (AP) Facing pressure at home to come up with a new strategy for achieving Palestinian statehood, Mahmoud Abbas said Friday he would ask the U.N. Security Council to dictate the ground rules for any talks with Israel, including setting a deadline for an Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian lands.

In a speech to world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly, the Palestinian leader also accused Israel of conducting a "war of genocide" in Gaza, but stopped short of saying he would pursue war crimes charges against Israel.

"This last war against Gaza was a series of absolute war crimes carried out before the eyes and ears of the entire world, moment by moment," Abbas said. The devastation unleashed, he asserted, "is unmatched in modern times."

While the Palestinian president spoke forcefully, appearing visibly angry at times, the address was short on specifics. He did not offer his own deadline for an Israeli withdrawal, as some had predicted, nor did he say anything about joining the International Criminal Court as his aides have repeatedly said he is prepared to do.

And while he signaled he would seek accountability for alleged war crimes by Israel against Palestinians during this summer's 50-day war in Gaza, he made no mention of taking the case to the International Criminal Court.

"We will not forget and we will not forgive, and we will not allow war criminals to escape punishment," Abbas said in his 30-minute address.

His words elicited an angry response from the United States.

"President Abbas' speech today included offensive characterizations that were deeply disappointing and which we reject," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. "Such provocative statements are counterproductive and undermine efforts to create a positive atmosphere and restore trust between the parties."

Israel denounced the allegations as "a speech of incitement filled with lies."

Abbas' remarks "highlight once again how he does not want and cannot be a partner for a reasonable diplomatic agreement," Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in a statement in which he also criticized Abbas for aligning with Gaza's Islamic militant Hamas rulers.

Israel launched thousands of airstrikes against what it said were Hamas-linked targets in Gaza, while Gaza militants fired several thousand rockets at Israel. More than 2,100 Palestinians were killed, the vast majority civilians, and some 18,000 homes were destroyed, according to U.N. figures. Sixty-six soldiers and six civilians were killed on the Israeli side.

The devastating war has weakened Abbas domestically, with his Hamas rivals enjoying a surge of popularity among Palestinians for fighting Israel.

He is under pressure at home to come up with a new political strategy after his repeated but failed attempts to establish a Palestinian state through U.S.-mediated negotiations with Israel.

Before Friday's speech, his aides had said he would launch a new bid for a U.N. Security Council resolution to set a three-year timetable for Israel to pull out of Palestinian lands captured in the 1967 war. They added that a U.N. rejection of the Palestinian request would prompt Abbas to seek membership in international agencies, including the International Criminal Court.

That would open the door to war crimes charges against Israel for its military actions in Gaza and Jewish settlement construction on West Bank land the Palestinians want for a future state.

However, Abbas' speech made no mention of a bid to join the International Criminal Court or a deadline for ending the occupation, referring only to the need for a "specific time frame for the implementation of these objectives."

Turning to the International Criminal Court would be a major policy shift for Abbas. It would transform his relations with Israel from tense to openly hostile, and badly strain his relations with the United States. The Palestinian leader has been threatening to join the ICC since 2012, when Palestine won upgraded status to a nonmember observer state at the U.N., which allows membership in many world bodies.

Abbas adviser Nabil Abu Rdeneh told reporters that the Security Council resolution proposed by Abbas was currently being drafted and was the "beginning of a new strategy and a new phase."

However, Abbas met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday in New York and expressed little optimism his U.N. bid would survive a Security Council vote. The United States will almost certainly veto such a measure, having said the only resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is through direct negotiations between the two sides.

However, Abu Rdeneh said a U.S. veto in the Security Council would undermine Washington's interests in the Middle East at a time when it's trying to build a coalition against the militant Islamic State group

"It would not be useful for the United States to put itself in this embarrassing situation (of casting a veto) before the peoples of the world, especially now that the Arab states joined the United States in its battle against terrorism," he said.

Abbas' U.N. address came a day after negotiators from his Fatah movement reached a partial deal with the rival Hamas on running Gaza. Abbas hasn't set foot in the seaside strip since Hamas seized the territory from him in 2007.

Over the past seven years, the rivals have signed several reconciliation deals, but never implemented them. In the spring, Hamas agreed that a temporary unity government of experts under Abbas' leadership would administer both the West Bank and Gaza, but that deal, too, was never implemented because key disputes were left unresolved.

Ending the impasse took on greater urgency after the Gaza war, mainly because Egypt and Israel want forces loyal to Abbas present at Gaza's crossings in exchange for easing severe border restrictions imposed after 2007.

Large amounts of building materials would have to enter Gaza as part of any internationally funded reconstruction efforts. Israel wants safeguards that cement and steel shipped into Gaza are not diverted by Hamas for military uses.

As part of Thursday's deal, Hamas agreed that 3,000 forces loyal to Abbas would take up positions on the border. However, it remains unclear when such a deployment would begin and there was no mention of Hamas ceding control of the Gaza security forces under its command.


Associated Press writers Karin Laub in Ramallah and Aron Heller in Jerusalem contributed to this report.


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