THE two leaders of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have called for the immediate resumption of stalled Middle East peace talks.
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu both made powerful appeals to an international audience in a diplomatic showdown at the United Nations.
In an emotion-charged General Assembly of the UN, Mr Abbas addressed the chamber first, followed by Mr Netanyahu.
The tone was set when Israel’s Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, walked out as Mr Abbas was being introduced – before he had spoken a word.
When it came time for Mr Netanyahu to speak, the Palestinian delegation remained but the delegations from Iran, Lebanon and Syria were absent.
During Mr Abbas’ speech, a fight broke out in the public gallery and police had to intervene.
Mr Abbas said the Palestinian Liberation Organisation and the Palestinian people had “renounced violence and terrorism in all its forms”.
He said the time had come for Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, which it captured in the 1967 war, to end.
“Our people are waiting to hear the answer of the world,” he said.
“Will it allow Israel to continue the last occupation in the world? We are the last people to remain under occupation.
“Will the world allow Israel to occupy us forever?”
Mr Abbas said Israel’s policy of expanding Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories embodied colonisation and brutality.
“The loss of hope is the most ferocious enemy of peace,” he said.
“The time has come for our men, women and children to live normal lives, for them to be able to sleep without waiting for the worst that the next day will bring.
“For mothers to be sure their children will return home without fear of being arrested, for students to go to schools and universities without checkpoints obstructing them, for people to go to hospitals normally, for farmers to be able to take care of their land without fear of occupation, or fear of the settlers with their guard dogs who attack the Palestinians…they build on our lands their homes and uproot and burn olive trees that have existed in Palestine for hundreds of years.”
Mr Netanyahu, in his address, called for an immediate meeting in the UN building with Mr Abbas.
“I cannot make peace alone, I cannot make peace without you,” he said.
“President Abbas, I extend my hand, the hand of Israel, in peace, I hope you will clasp that hand, we are both the sons of Abraham…we share the same patriarch, we dwell in the same land, our destinies are intertwined.”
Mr Netanyahu said Israel and he wanted peace.
“We cannot achieve peace through UN resolution but only through direct negotiations between the two parties,” he said.
He said when Israel withdrew from the Gaza strip “the entire world applauded”.
“(But) We didn’t get peace, we got war,” he said.
“We got Iran, which, through its proxy, Hamas, promptly kicked out the PA (Palestinian Authority.)
“Israelis rightly ask what’s to prevent this from happening again in the West Bank?
“Would any of you bring danger so close to your cities?
“Israel is prepared to have a Palestinian state in the West Bank but we’re not prepared to have another Gaza there.”
Mr Netanyahu said settlements were not at the core of the conflict.
“Our conflict has been raging for nearly half a century before there was a single Israeli settlement in the West Bank,” he said.
“The settlements are a result of the conflict, the settlements are an issue that has to be addressed and resolved in the course of negotiations but the core of conflict is and remains the refusal of Palestinians to recognise a Jewish state in any borders.
“Israel is the Jewish state. President Abbas, stop walking around this issue. Recognise the Jewish state and make peace with us…Israel is prepared to make painful concessions.”