Abbas: Now is the time Palestine gets full UN membership

Israeli settlers expand assaults in Jerusalem, West Bank

U.S. president calls on Netanyahu to reconsider position, relations with Washington

Shaath says U.S. role over

President Mahmoud Abbas has said he wants full Palestinian membership in the UN.

The Jerusalem Post has reported on a speech made by Abbas in Ramallah on Saturday, in which he said Palestine should now become a permanent member of the UN.

He was in Ramallah with visiting Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, whose country has already recognized the Palestinian state.

President Abbas said the time has come for a Palestinian state to become a permanent member of the UN, saying he hoped that the 1967 border lines would be declared by September.

He blamed Israel for the stalemate in the peace process and reiterated his opposition to the idea of a state with temporary borders.

The Palestinians have refused to hold direct negotiations with Israel unless it halts all West Bank settlement activity and Jewish building in east Jerusalem.

While Israel has called on the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table without conditions, Abbas has said if Israel proposes a Palestinian state with provisional borders it will be rejected.

During his speech, he called on members of the Middle East Quartet to take measures that would "force Israel to end its aggression and occupation of our lands."

He said the peace process had been in crisis because of Israel’s policies "that aim to seize our lands."

Israeli settlers damaged houses and cars in two Palestinian villages on Tuesday, witnesses said, in an apparent show of anger over Israel's demolition of homes in an unauthorized settler outpost.

Villagers in Hiwwara in the occupied West Bank said settlers threw petrol bombs into a house, broke the windows of another, and burned several cars in the overnight rampage before moving on to nearby Burin, where Israeli soldiers prevented them from attacking a mosque.

There were no reports of injuries. An Israeli police spokesman said the incident was being investigated.

"We tried to put off the fire but we could not, because it was huge. The whole front room burned down and part of the sitting room," said Rami Edmeidi, the owner of the home that came under attack in Hiwwara.

The violence followed the bulldozing on Monday by Israeli authorities of two homes at Havat Gilad, a hilltop West Bank settlement built without Israeli government permission.

Israel has long promised the United States to dismantle outposts whose construction has not been sanctioned by Israeli authorities. But Israeli leaders have been reluctant to act in the face of opposition by settlers and their political backers.

The demolition at Havat Gilad followed Washington's veto on February 18 of a draft U.N. Security Council that described all Israeli settlements as "illegal" and urged Israel to "immediately and completely" halt settlement activity.

In remarks to legislators from his right-wing Likud party on Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu -- whose refusal to renew a halt to building in settlements led to the collapse of peace talks with the Palestinians -- hinted he was limiting the scope of construction as a result of international pressure.

Netanyahu told the forum, according to a Likud spokesman, that while construction is under way in West Bank settlements, "in some places there are no (building) tenders."

Israel faces "a very difficult international reality and the U.S. veto in the Security Council was achieved with great efforts," he was quoted as saying.

Netanyahu also must contend with pro-settler sentiment within his party and governing coalition. Anger was high among settler activists in response to the use by police of plastic-coated paint bullets to quash resistance at Havat Gilad.

It was the first time the non-lethal weapon was used against settlers, eight of whom were arrested. "Bibi, at Havat Gilad, you shot yourself in the foot," read posters, citing Netanyahu's nickname, at bus stops outside West Bank settlements.

Likud legislator Danny Danon said he and other settler supporters in the party intend to ratchet up pressure on Netanyahu to boost construction in settlements.

"We are not prepared to accept any discrimination between Jews living in the cities of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) and the rest of the Jews in Israel," Danon told Reuters.

Some 500,000 Israelis and 2.5 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 war.

Palestinians fear settlements, which the World Court has deemed illegal, will deny them a viable state. They say construction in settlements must stop before peace talks, frozen some three weeks after they began in September, can resume.

The U.S. administration said its veto in the U.N. Security Council should not be misunderstood as support for the settlements but that it believed passage of the resolution would only harden Israeli and Palestinian positions.

Facing growing isolation over the impasse in peace talks, Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu is planning a new initiative to set up a Palestinian state within temporary borders, press reports said on Friday.

The Israeli premier is largely expected to announce his new diplomatic initiative during a visit to the United States in May, in an address to the US Congress or at the annual meeting of the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC.

Details of the plan are still sketchy but the idea is believed to involve the establishment of a Palestinian state within temporary borders, while providing guarantees about talks on final status issues, the Maariv newspaper said.

With regard to Jewish settlements -- the thorny issue which scuppere direct peace talks last September -- Netanyahu's plan would include a partial freeze on construction, but would permit building in the major settlement blocs as well as in occupied and annexed east Jerusalem, it said.

Netanyahu on Thursday met with senior White House advisers Dennis Ross and Fred Hoff, an official in the premier's office said, for talks which were believed to focus on the new initiative.

So far, there has been no official comment on the plan but sources close to Netanyahu have in recent days spoken to the Israeli press about the need to implement a long-term interim agreement with the Palestinians.

"The prime minister has realized that the political impasse is not working in Israel's favor," one of Netanyahu's advisers told the Haaretz newspaper.

The move, he said, was an attempt to both restart peace talks as well as to thwart Palestinian diplomatic efforts to secure unilateral recognition of an independent state.

"Following a few weeks of revolution in the Arab world, (Netanyahu) is convinced that there are opportunities, not just threats, and that it is important to take advantage of the situation to restart the peace process and put an end to the unilateral initiatives of the Palestinians."

Since peace talks ran aground late last year over an intractable dispute about settlements, the Palestinians have been pursuing a raft of diplomatic initiatives aimed at garnering world support for a unilateral declaration of independence.

Israel is fiercely opposed to such a move, arguing that negotiations are the only way to end the conflict and establish a Palestinian state.

But there are also other reasons forcing Netanyahu to come up with a fresh political initiative, especially Israel's growing diplomatic isolation.

That isolation was clearly demonstrated last month when 14 out of 15 members of the UN Security Council voted in favor of a resolution condemning Jewish settlement activity.

The resolution was only quashed after the United States cast a veto.

"Obama's veto against the condemnation of West Bank settlements at the UN Security Council brought home to Netanyahu that Israel has no more friends in the international community," Haaretz commentator Aluf Benn wrote.

"It was only the flick of Obama's finger that prevented a huge diplomatic defeat for the prime minister," he wrote, suggesting the new initiative was part of the price Israel was expected to pay.

"Now the time has come to cash in, and Obama will demand a price for his veto."

News of Netanyahu's intentions were leaked to the press as the Quartet sought to push both sides into renewing some kind of peace negotiations, which ran aground last autumn over an intractable dispute about settlements.

The Middle East Quartet of peacemakers -- which groups the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations -- are expected to meet in Paris later this month for talks aimed at jumpstarting the peace process.

Earlier this week, Palestinian negotiators met in Brussels with Quartet envoys to thrash out the parameters of a statement which will be issued at the end of the Paris meeting, sources in Ramallah told AFP.

Israel did not send anyone to the Brussels meeting, but Quartet representatives are expected to hold talks with Netanyahu's negotiating team in Jerusalem next week, officials said.

Since the expiry in September of a temporary ban on settlement building -- which Netanyahu refused to extend -- the Palestinians have refused all direct contact with the Israelis, saying they will not talk while settlers build on land they want for a future state.

The international community, spearheaded by the Quartet, is now trying to coax both sides into restarting some form of negotiations.

Meanwhile, a senior Palestinian official said Saturday that France has reiterated that it will recognize the Palestinian state in September, Xinhua news agency reported. "France postpones its recognition of a Palestinian state because it is exerting efforts to convince the entire European countries to recognize the state," Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath, who wrapped up a visit to Paris on Saturday, told the agency.

Shaath added that France is leading an initiative in the European Union (EU) which aims at activating the EU in sponsoring the peace process and adopting an initiative based on recognizing the state of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital. "The initiative also aims at requesting from Israel to be committed to the international peace reference," Shaath said.

After the peace talks were suspended on Oct. 2 due to Israel’s rejection to halt settlement activities, the Palestinians threatened to use other diplomatic options, mainly asking the world’s recognition of a Palestinian state. On February 18, the UN Security Council held a vote on a resolution to condemn Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem area.

Fourteen Security Council members voted in favor of the resolution but the U.S. voted against it. The U.S. vetoed the resolution as it has the power to block draft resolutions due to being one of the five permanent council members.

Prior to the voting, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas rejected a compromise offered by the U.S. in exchange for the withdrawal of the draft resolution. U.S. State Secretary Hillary Clinton said that the U.S. opposes new Israeli settlements but the UN Security Council resolutions are not the right vehicle for advancing negotiation between Israel and Palestine.

Palestine demanded a stop to settlement construction in the disputed East Jerusalem and West Bank area as a key element for continuing peace talks with Israel. However, the Jewish country continued construction despite the condemnation from the international community.

"The problem is not our problem, the problem is with Israel. The political changes in the Arab world won’t affect the Palestinian leadership, the contrary, it will empower the Palestinian determination to continue their popular struggle against the occupation," Shaath said.