Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has submitted his bid to the UN for recognition of a Palestinian state.
To rapturous applause in the General Assembly, he urged the Security Council to back a state with pre-1967 borders.
He said the Palestinians had entered negotiations with Israel with sincere intentions, but blamed the building of Jewish settlements for their failure.
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu said he was reaching out to Palestinians and blamed them for refusing to negotiate.
“I continue to hope that President Abbas will be my partner in peace,” he said in his speech in New York.
“Let’s meet here today in the United Nations. Who’s there to stop us?”
Mr Netanyahu added that the core of the conflict was not settlements but the refusal of the Palestinians to recognise Israel as a Jewish state.
Israel and the US say a Palestinian state can only be achieved through talks with Israel – not through UN resolutions.
‘Come to peace’
President Barack Obama told Mr Abbas on Thursday that the US would use its UN Security Council veto to block the move.
“I call upon Mr Secretary-General to expedite transmittal of our request to the Security Council, and I call upon the distinguished members of the Security Council to vote in favour of our full membership,” he told the General Assembly, in what was for him an unusually impassioned speech.
He added that he hoped for swift backing. Many delegates gave him a standing ovation.
“I also appeal to the states that have not yet recognised the State of Palestine to do so.”
“The time has come for my courageous and proud people, after decades of displacement and colonial occupation and ceaseless suffering, to live like other peoples of the earth, free in a sovereign and independent homeland,” he said.
He urged Israel to “come to peace”.
And he said the building of Jewish settlements was “the primary cause for the failure of the peace process”.
A spokesman for the Islamist movement Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, criticised the speech.
Salah Bardawil said Mr Abbas had deviated from the aspirations of the Palestinian people by accepting the 1967 borders, which he said left 80% of Palestinian land inside Israel.
‘Future and destiny’
Meanwhile in the West Bank, crowds roared their approval as Mr Abbas demanded UN acceptance of a Palestinian state within pre-1967 borders.
“With our souls, with our blood, we will defend Palestine,” they said.
Mr Abbas had called for peaceful marches in support of his initiative, but some clashes were reported:
- One Palestinian was shot dead by Israeli troops during clashes in the village of Qusra, south of Nablus, Palestinian sources say
- At the Qalandiya checkpoint, Israeli troops fired tear gas on stone-throwing Palestinian youths
- In the village of Nabi Saleh, protesters burned Israeli flags and pictures of President Obama
The process began with Mr Abbas presenting a written request for UN recognition of the Palestinian territories as a state to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
The BBC’s Kim Ghattas at the UN says that until the last minute Western diplomats tried and failed to stop the Palestinians making the request.
Even now, efforts are under way to restart direct talks between the Israelis and Palestinians in an attempt to defuse tensions, our correspondent says.
If Mr Ban decides the application is in order, the Security Council will examine it and vote on it. In order to pass, it would need the backing of nine out of 15 council members, with no vetoes from the permanent members.
A Security Council vote could take weeks to come about and the US may not even need to exercise its veto – Washington and Israel have been lobbying council members to either vote against the Palestinian plan or abstain.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has urged a compromise, suggesting the General Assembly give the Palestinians enhanced status as a non-member state to allow a clear timeline for talks – a month to start negotiations, six months to deal with borders and security and a year to finalise a “definitive agreement”.
A vote on enhanced status – enjoyed by others such as the Vatican – would not require a Security Council recommendation but a simple majority in the General Assembly, where no veto is possible.
Currently the Palestinians have observer status at the UN.
The “Quartet” of US, European, Russian and UN mediators has been working on reaching a framework agreement to restart talks, based on Mr Obama’s vision of borders fashioned from Israel’s pre-1967 boundary, with agreed land swaps.