UNITED NATIONS -- Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in perhaps his most forceful exhortation on his people's right to self-determination, drove home a single point in his address at the General Assembly on Friday: Israel must withdraw from Palestinian lands.
"The people of Palestine are actually the ones who need immediate international protection, which we are seeking through international organizations, and who are in need of the security and peace that they are missing more than any other people, and the children of Palestine are worthy of the world's efforts to ensure that their childhood, dreams and lives will not be devastated once again," he said in a speech that drew sustained applause. "It is time for the chapters of this prolonged, ongoing tragedy to be closed."
The backdrop for such a demand is a brutal 50-day war in Gaza last summer that claimed the lives of more than 2,000 Palestinians, mostly civilians, according to United Nations officials, and several dozen Israelis, primarily military personnel.
The conflict followed another round of negotiations that did not resolve the stubborn issues that have hampered the two sides from reaching the purported goal of each entity as well as their brokers: peace between two independent states living side by side.
Abbas was uncompromising in his assessment of his counterparts, who he said had waged war against Palestinians three times in the past five years.
"However, in order to avert repeating the cycle of war and reconstruction every two or three years, it is imperative to focus on the fundamental issue and starting point, which is that the suffering of Gaza will not be completely alleviated except by ending the occupation and achieving the independence of the State of Palestine," he said.
Abbas made a passing reference to terrorism, one of the main themes of the 69th General Assembly, saying the occupation itself is a root cause of it.
Eradicating terrorism "requires . . . bringing an end to the Israeli occupation of our country."
Israel denounced the allegations as "a speech of incitement filled with lies," The Associated Press reported.
Abbas' remarks "highlight once again how he does not want and cannot be a partner for a reasonable diplomatic agreement," Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in a statement.
Abbas said he looks forward to an international conference in Cairo next month for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, which underwent sustained bombing of its buildings and homes and for which, despite many setbacks, he still holds out hope
"We, as our poet Mahmoud Darwish said: 'are infected with an incurable disease, that is hope, and we love life if we are given the chance for it.' There is an occupation that must end now. There is a people that must be freed immediately. The hour of independence of the State of Palestine has arrived."