The Palestinians want the United Nations Security Council to decide on their bid for full membership of the world body within a fortnight, a leading Fatah official has said as difficult questions about the move's consequences and the future of their statehood remained.
"Palestinians will wait two weeks for Security Council to consider application for membership," Azzam al-Ahmad, was quoted telling the Maan news agency on Saturday.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also said on Saturday he expected the council to finish debating within weeks, not months.
Lebanon's UN ambassador said the Security Council would convene on Monday to discuss the application after Abbas presented it to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday.
"I circulated the [Palestinian application] letter to all members of the Security Council and I called for consultations in light of this letter on Monday at three in the afternoon [1900 GMT]," Ambassador Nawaf Salam, the council president, told reporters.
Ahmad did not elaborate on what course of action the Palestinians would pursue if the Security Council rejected the request, a likely scenario considering the United States has said it will veto the move.
Abbas's statehood bid reflects his loss of faith after 20 years of failed peace talks sponsored by the United States, and alarm at Israeli settlement expansion in occupied land that Palestinians want for a state.
Apart from the US veto threat, it was also unclear if the required nine of the body's 15 members would support the bid.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Maliki told national radio that officials were still hoping to garner the required votes.
"Consultations continue, especially with Gabon, Nigeria and Bosnia-Herzegovina, which have yet to define their position," Maliki was quoted as saying.
Next best option
Alternate to the Security Council, the Palestinians, who currently have observer status at the UN, could ask for the General Assembly to vote to upgrade them to a non-member state, which would allow them membership of a number of UN agencies.
The General Assembly vote would require only a simple majority of the current 193 member nations, seemingly an easy proposition for the Palestinians.
In his speech to the General Assembly on Friday after presenting the request, Abbas said: "I do not believe that anyone with a shred of conscience can reject our application ... and our admission as an independent state".
But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who spoke shortly after Abbas, said peace could be achieved only through negotiations and dismissed the world body as a "theatre of the absurd".
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Shortly after the two men ended their speeches, the Quartet of Middle East peace negotiators - the United States, Russia, the European Union and the U.N. - issued a call for a return to direct peace talks which US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said was a "concrete proposal".
"The United States is very pleased that the Quartet was able to issue a statement today with a concrete and detailed proposal to begin a negotiation between the Israelis and the Palestinians without delay or pre-condition," she said.
"Tony Blair has also mentioned that this [Quartet timetable] doesn't conflict with the membership application," Al Jazeera's Scott Heidler, reporting from the United Nations, said. "These can go in parallel."
Abbas accepts negotiations are still necessary, but argues statehood will put Palestinians on a more equal footing, while Israel sees the UN bid as an attempt to erode its own legitimacy.
Palestinians want to establish a state on land Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East War in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem as the capital.
But the contrast between joyous scenes in the West Bank and the silence in the Gaza Strip, where the ruling Hamas movement opposed the bid and stymied celebration rallies, served to underscore deep Palestinian political divisions.
On Friday night, seemingly intractable obstacles were set aside by many in the West Bank, eager to forget the lack of progress towards peace and revel in a rare moment of optimism and pride.
'The hour of independence'
The scenes of joy in the West Bank's main cities were splashed across the three main Palestinian newspapers underneath proud headlines.
"President Abbas: the hour of the Palestinian Spring ... the hour of independence," roared Al-Quds daily over a picture of Abbas brandishing the formal request.
"The President: Palestine is resurrected," wrote Al-Ayyam, which also carried a cartoon depicting a soaring eagle with a breastplate in the colours of the Palestinian flag over the logo "The state of Palestine".
|Senior Hamas official questions Abbas's approach
In Al-Hayat al-Jadida newspaper, columnist Adel Abdul Rahman lavished praise on Abbas for his UN address, underlining the unprecedented boost in popularity the unassuming president currently enjoys in the West Bank.
"President Abu Mazen's speech was great and brave by all standards, as the leader of a liberation movement, and as the president of the Arab Palestinian people and as a statesman," he wrote, using Abbas's nom de guerre.
In Al-Ayyam, commentator Hassan al-Batan said Abbas would "laugh last" at his detractors, and had shaken off a reputation for mild-mannered compliance with Israel and the United States.
And an Al-Quds newspaper editorial said Abbas had shown that his real loyalties lay with his people.
By resisting "massive pressure" to drop the bid, Abbas showed he "has the best interests of the Palestinian people at heart and that there is no compromise on our rights, whatever the pressures and whoever they come from," it said.
Among some Palestinians, the excitement of the moment was tempered by the expectation that the United States would prevent the bid from being approved, either by persuading enough fellow Security Council members to abstain or vote against it, or by simply vetoing the request.
There was also the spectre of punitive measures against Abbas and the Palestinians as a whole.
A poll carried out by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research this week found 78 per cent of Palestinians expect Israel to impose economic and political sanctions in response to the UN move.
Another 64 per cent said they expected Washington to do the same.
The calendar for new Israeli-Palestinian talks proposed by the peacemaking Quartet, which foresees a deal before the end of 2012, "is not sacred," Israel's deputy foreign minister said on Saturday.
"What's important in the Quartet's position is that it doesn't condition the restart of negotiations on settlements on the borders," Danny Ayalon told public radio, a day after the new talks proposal was announced.
"But the calendar for the application is not sacred," he added.
Israel's deputy foreign minister talks about statehood
Ayalon said what came next would depend on whether the Palestinians accept "a restart of negotiations without preconditions and without the threat of unilateral actions", a reference to the UN membership move.
"So long as the Palestinians don't come to the negotiating table, we can't move forward," added Ayalon, a member of the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party.
Officially, Israel has said it is studying the Quartet's new proposal, but Environment Minister Gilad Erdan, a member of the Likud party of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said he doubted talks would restart.
"I don't really believe that negotiations will resume, even though the prime minister has done the impossible to try to achieve that," he told public radio.
Erdan said it would be "out of the question" for Netanyahu to accept the conditions the Palestinians have laid out for the resumption of negotiations - a settlement freeze and clear parameters that use the lines that existed before the 1967 Middle East War as the basis for talks on borders.
Talks between the two sides have been on hold for nearly a year, grinding to a halt shortly after they were relaunched in Washington over the issue of settlement construction.
Israel failed to renew a part freeze on settlement building that expired shortly after the talks started, and the Palestinians say they will not hold talks while Israel builds on land they want for a state.
The Quartet had sought to deliver a credible proposal for new peace talks in an attempt to head off the Palestinian bid for state membership at the UN.
But the offer was not announced until after Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas formally submitted the membership request on Friday, and appeared to make no reference to the Palestinians' stated preconditions for new negotiations.