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Abbas muses petitioning U.N. for state recognition

By Kareem Khadder and Kevin Flower, CNN
  • Abbas says it's the Palestinians' right to ask to be recognized as a state
  • His remarks came during commemorations for the anniversary of Arafat's death
  • Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have stalled again

Jerusalem (CNN) -- Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Thursday asserted his government's right to petition the United Nations Security Council to recognize a Palestinian state if Israel refuses to halt settlement construction in the occupied West Bank.

His comments were made to thousands gathered in the West Bank city of Ramallah to commemorate the sixth anniversary of the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

But he noted that the United States had cautioned that such an action would constitute a "unilateral move."

"(The Israelis) on a daily basis commit unilateral moves, beginning with the separation wall, settlements, checkpoints, incursions, and killings... and this all is not called a unilateral move?" Abbas asked.

Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned both sides to refrain from making moves that might undermine the stalled peace talks.

"We do not support unilateral steps by either party that would prejudge the outcome of such negotiations," Clinton said after a meeting with Egyptian Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit. "There will be no progress until they actually come together and explore areas where there is agreement, and ways to narrow areas of disagreement."

The American-brokered talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority have broken down over the issues of continued Israeli settlement building in the West Bank and tensions were exacerbated earlier this week when Israel announced plans to construct 1,300 new housing units in the majority Palestinian area of East Jerusalem.

As the stalemate continues, the Palestinian side has been threatening to seek international recognition of a Palestinian state based on borders from 1967, a move opposed both by Israel and the United States. Abbas said the Palestinian stance would not change and that a return to the negotiating table was not possible under the current circumstances

"Our position holds," Abbas said.

"Settlements are illegal, Jerusalem is our capital and the refugees will return," he said in reference to the approximately 7.1 million Palestinian refugees and descendants who either fled or were forced to leave their homes when Israel was formed in 1948.

The Palestinian president also took aim at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's demand that Israel be recognized by Palestinians as a Jewish state.

"They always say that Israel is a democratic state in the Middle East, (then) all of a sudden we started hearing that Israel is a Jewish state that has a democratic nature," Abbas said. "I don't understand how it could be a Jewish state with a democratic nature."

The political rally and commemoration took place in the Muqata, the compound that houses the seat of the Palestinian Authority government. Yasser Arafat spent the last two years of his life under house arrest in that compound, which was surrounded by the Israeli military, until he was permitted to depart for medical treatment in Paris in 2004.

Other ceremonies marking the anniversary of Arafat's death took place in other cities in the West Bank. But in the Gaza Strip, which is run by the Islamist group Hamas, all public ceremonies were banned. Security sources told CNN that several activists of the rival political faction Fatah had been arrested and detained by police in the last week. Hamas violently seized control of Gaza from the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority in 2007.