September 30, 2015 / 5:59 PM / in 2 years

Israel undermines U.S. peace effort, Palestinian Abbas tells U.N

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday accused Israel of sabotaging U.S. efforts to broker peace and said Israeli security operations at the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem could lead to a religious war.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addresses attendees during the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York, September 30, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Segar

In an address to the United Nations General Assembly before a ceremony for the raising of the Palestinian flag at U.N. headquarters in New York, Abbas said the Palestinian Authority no longer considered itself bound by the accords signed with Israel in the mid-1990s.

Reiterating what the Palestinian Authority has been saying for at least half a decade, Abbas said the agreements would not apply as long as Israel supports settlements of Israelis in the West Bank and refuses to release Palestinian prisoners.

“You are all aware that Israel undermined the efforts made by the administration of President Barack Obama in past years, most recently the efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry aimed at reaching a peace agreement through negotiations,” Abbas told the 193-nation General Assembly.

A senior U.S. administration official noted that Abbas reaffirmed his commitment to a two-state solution, a goal shared by the United States.

“We will continue to look to the Israeli and Palestinian governments to demonstrate, through policies and actions, a genuine commitment to a two-state solution,” the official said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said in response that Abbas’ speech was “deceitful and encourages incitement and lawlessness in the Middle East.”

“We expect and call on the (Palestinian) Authority and its leader to act responsibly and accede to the proposal of ... Israel and enter into direct negotiations with Israel without preconditions,” it said, adding that Abbas “does not intend to reach a peace agreement.”

But Palestinian political analyst Hani al-Masri told Reuters that Abbas’ speech was disappointing and showed “undecidedness, confusion and a lack of options.”

“His speech is a repeat of old positions and there was nothing new,” he added. “There were no bombshells, not even any fireworks.”

Obama, whose relations with Netanyahu have been strained, addressed the assembly on Monday but did not mention Israel or the Palestinians, an unusual omission.

Abbas praised French efforts to revive stalled peace negotiations and called for a national unity government that would unite the fractious Palestinian political scene.

“We are determined to preserve the unity of our land and our people,” Abbas said. “We seek to form a national unity government that functions according to the program of the Palestine Liberation Organization, and we seek to hold presidential and legislative elections.”

Abbas’ Fatah controls the West Bank, while Hamas, branded a terrorist organization by Israel and the United States, controls the Gaza Strip.

Israeli-Palestinian strife has risen sharply in recent weeks as Arab states and Palestinians have accused Israeli forces of violations at Al-Aqsa mosque, one of Islam’s holiest places.

Abbas said Israel’s use of “brutal force” at the mosque could “convert the conflict from a political to (a) religious one, creating an explosive in Jerusalem and in the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”

Even though Palestine is not a member of the United Nations, the General Assembly adopted a Palestinian-drafted resolution that permits non-member observer states to fly their flags alongside those of full member states. Palestine and the Vatican are the only non-member observer states.

In 2012, the General Assembly approved the de facto recognition of the sovereign state of Palestine. That followed a failed bid by the Palestinians to secure full U.N. membership.

Additional reporting by Ori Lewis in Jerusalem, Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and Roberta Rampton in Washington; Editing by Grant McCool, Jonathan Oatis, Toni Reinhold

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