The assembly may seem irrelevant to ongoing world conflicts, but it is a gesture towards some kind of global democracy.
President Mahmoud Abbas has called on the United Nations to declare 2017 the year “to end the Israeli occupation” of Palestinian land and people, saying that Israel’s settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank is destroying any hope of a two-state solution.
During a speech before the UN General Assembly on Thursday, the Palestinian president urged the international community to exert greater effort than before to establish a truly independent Palestinian state, as the 50th anniversary of Israel’s “abhorrent” occupation approaches in June next year.
“Those who believe in the two-state solution should recognise both states, and not just one of them,” Abbas said.
Most member states of the UN have already recognised the state of Palestine, but Israel and a number of other countries, including the UK, the US and Germany, have not.
“Israel must recognise the state of Palestine and put an end to its occupation of our land so the state of Palestine can co-exist alongside the state of Israel in peace and security as good neighbours,” he said.
“We extend our hands to those who want to build peace. But the question remains and persists: is there any leadership in Israel, the occupying power, that desires to make a true peace?” he asked.
Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan, reporting from West Jerusalem, said Abbas used “much tougher” diplomatic language in his speech, compared with speeches in the past.
“He talked about making 2017 the year Palestine is finally recognised and the occupation comes to an end,” our correspondent said.
“He [also] made clear that the settlements are an obstacle for peace.”
Earlier, Abbas, who has been Palestinian president for 11 years, had told representatives at the UN assembly in New York that Israel’s pursuit of settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank “will destroy whatever possibility is left for the two-state solution along the 1967 borders”.
In late August, the United States said it was “deeply concerned” following an announcement that Israel had approved the building of 463 homes for Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank.
Nickolay Mladenov, the UN coordinator for the Middle East peace process, told the Security Council in August that Israeli settlement expansion had surged in the past two months.
A recent report by the diplomatic Quartet – the European Union, Russia, the UN and the US – said construction of settlements on land earmarked to be part of a future Palestinian state is eroding the possibility of a two-state solution.
The Palestinian leader said on Thursday that his officials would “exert all efforts” to get the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution on settlements and the “terror of the settlers”.
“The settlements are illegal in every aspect,” Abbas said.
In his speech to the UN General Assembly, Abbas also asked Britain to apologise for its 1917 Balfour declaration endorsing the founding of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
Abbas said that Britain should recognise Palestine as a state in order to correct its past mistakes.
“We ask Great Britain, as we approach 100 years since this infamous declaration, to draw the necessary lessons and to bear its historic, legal, political, material and moral responsibility for the consequences of this declaration, including an apology to the Palestinian people for the catastrophes, misery and injustice this declaration created, and to act to rectify these disasters and remedy its consequences, including by the recognition of the state of Palestine,” Abbas said.
“This is the least Great Britain can do.”