NEW YORK: Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas speaks at the UN Security Council yesterday. - AFP

UNITED NATIONS: Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas yesterday called for an international conference to be held by mid-2018 to pave the way for Palestinian statehood and launch a new, wider Middle East peace process. In a rare address to the UN Security Council, Abbas presented what he called a "peace plan" to revive the comatose Israeli-Palestinian talks with new international mediation - in which the United States would have less weight. "To solve the Palestine question, it is essential to establish a multilateral international mechanism emanating from an international conference," Abbas said.

President Donald Trump's decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem infuriated the Palestinians, who declared that Washington could no longer play a role as lead mediator in the Middle East peace process. Abbas put the blame for the failure of peace efforts squarely on Israel, saying it was "acting as a state above the law". "It has transformed the occupation from a temporary situation as per international law into a situation of permanent settlement colonization," he said.

Abbas said the conference should lead to full UN membership for the state of Palestine, mutual recognition of Israel and Palestine, and the creation of a new international mechanism to reach a final settlement. The Palestinian leader immediately left the council chamber following his address, leaving Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon to complain that he was once again "running away" from dialogue. "You have made it clear, with your words and with your actions, that you are no longer part of the solution. You are the problem," Danon said.

The Israeli-Palestinian peace process has been deadlocked since a major push by the former US administration of Barack Obama ended in failure in April 2014. The Trump administration is preparing a new peace plan even though chances for agreement appear dim. The Palestinians hope that greater international involvement in the peace process will serve to counter what they see as a US stance biased in favor of Israel. Israel, which often accuses the European Union and the United Nations of bias against it, is reluctant to accept any other mediator than the United States.

UN envoy Nickolay Mladenov said the international community must continue advocating for "substantial Israeli policy changes" on settlements and stressed that "these are not negotiations between equals". The Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state and UN resolutions call on countries to refrain from moving their embassies to the city until its status is resolved in an Israeli-Palestinian deal.

Abbas' address came just weeks after US Ambassador Nikki Haley launched a scathing attack on the Palestinian leader and accused him of lacking the courage needed for peace. Haley was accompanied to Tuesday's council meeting by Jason Greenblatt, the US envoy for Middle East peace and Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in law and adviser on Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. In December, the General Assembly voted 128-9, with 35 abstentions, to reject the US decision to recognize Jerusalem.

That vote in the 193-nation assembly came after 14 of the 15 council members voted in favor of a similar measure. The United States vetoed that draft resolution. Tensions have also flared over the US decision to cut funding to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA). The United Nations granted Palestine the status of a non-member observer state in 1992, but an upgrade to full membership would require unanimous backing from the Security Council - an unlikely outcome, given the near-certainty of a US veto. - AFP