All eyes are on Palestine today as Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas is set to address the United Nations (UN) General Assembly about his request for UN recognition of a state of Palestine. Tune in here as Mondoweiss liveblogs the Abbas speech and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's.
Shortly after the speech, Abbas will submit a letter requesting membership UN membership. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to address the General Assembly shortly after Abbas speaks. The speeches mark the climax of months of diplomatic wrangling and intense pressure on the Palestinian Authority to abandon their statehood bid.
5:05 PM (EST): In a move aimed at avoiding a Security Council vote on the Palestinian Authority's bid for statehood recognition, the Middle East Quartet released a statement this afternoon. Colum Lynch at Foreign Policy reports:
"The Quartet reiterated its urgent appeal to the parties to overcome the current obstacles and resume direct bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations without delay or preconditions," reads the Quartet statement. "But it accepts that meeting, in itself, will not reestablish the trust necessary for such a negotiation to succeed."
The statement details a specific proposal for a timeline for direct talks, beginning with a "preparatory meeting" in the next month to "agree an agenda and method" for the talks. "At that meeting there will be a commitment by both sides that the objective of any negotiation is to reach an agreement within a timeframe agreed to by the parties but not longer than the end of 2012."
The Quartet "expects the parties to come forward with comprehensive proposals within three months on territory and security, and to have made substantial progress within six months. To that end, the Quartet will convene an international conference in Moscow, in consultation with the parties, at the appropriate time."
The Quartet "recognizes the achievements of the Palestinian Authority in preparing institutions for statehood," the statement said. It also calls on the two parties "to refrain from provocative actions if negotiations are to be effective."
The Quartet statement includes nothing about continued settlement building. The Palestinian Authority has said it would only return to negotiations if Israel froze settlements and agreed to base the talks on the 1967 borders. Lynch also reports that the European Union has been "pressing the Palestinians to back down and not force the matter for a vote. Instead, the Europeans would support a bid by the Palestinians to secure a General Assembly decision recognizing the Palestinians as an non-member observer state."
2:11 PM (EST): My takeaway from the Netanyahu speech: There was nothing new, and we heard much the same from his speech in front of the US Congress. Netanyahu has no strategy but occupation and settlements. How will that play in a new Middle East, one where people power is beginning to matter?
1:54 PM (EST): This speech is tone-deaf to the new reality of the Middle East. Netanyahu is making the argument for prolonged military occupation, forever. He is speaking to a world that has seen people rise up against their dictators. But Abbas, whatever legitimate criticisms there are of him, has firmly put the cause of Palestine back at center stage in the midst of the Arab uprisings.
1:43 PM (EST): Netanyahu is so far avoiding any talk of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and instead focusing on the threat of radical Islam and Iran. He is reiterating the tried myths of the "generous offers" of Camp David and Ehud Olmert.
1:40 PM (EST): Netanyahu has begun his speech, reciting a tired litany of complaints about the UN.
1:32 PM (EST): Abbas' speech is over. What comes next? A list:
-The UN Security Council will vote on Palestine's application--eventually. As the Wall Street Journal reported, "the U.S. and its European allies plan to delay a U.N. Security Council vote on Palestinian membership well beyond this week in a bid to revive direct peace talks between the Palestinians and Israelis and sidestep an American veto, said officials briefed on the talks." The U.S. is sure to delay and delay indefinitely, but they may be forced to veto the bid. The question is whether Abbas would approach the General Assembly after that.
-Israeli reactions and consequences. On the immediate front, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman walked out, calling it a "speech of incitement," YNet reports.
1:00 PM (EST): The news in the speech is that Abbas has submitted an application for full UN membership for a state of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as the capital. But the big question remains: What exactly does the application say about a Palestinian state and its territory? The PA bid has been shrouded in secrecy, and no one knows what the application will say. If East Jerusalem is to be the capital, how do you explain the Palestine Papers revelations that showed "the PA’s willingness to concede areas of occupied East Jerusalem to the Israeli state," as the Electronic Intifada put it?
12:45 PM (EST): Abbas told the GA audience that while he is open to negotiations with Israel, talks remain "meaningless" while settlement building goes on.
12:10 (EST): PA President Mahmoud Abbas has just begun his speech at the UN, walking to the stage to loud applause. In Ramallah, thousands of people are celebrating upon the news that Abbas formally submitted the application for full membership, according to tweets from journalist Joseph Dana. But meanwhile, Israeli troops reportedly killed one person earlier today in a village outside Nablus, and clashes have erupted at the Qalandia checkpoint after Israel denied access to Jerusalem.
11:50 AM (EST): The Associated Press is reporting that the Palestinian Authority has "formally" submitted their application for full membership in the UN.