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Palestinians, Israelis Threaten Each Other Over Unilateral Plans for Statehood

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Palestinian leaders say they are pushing efforts to have the U.N. Security Council endorse the creation of a Palestinian state out of frustration over the stalled peace process. Israel has threatened to take its own unilateral steps if the Palestinians move ahead with plans for statehood on their own.

It was a swift and angry reaction from Israel when the Palestinians said this week they would push unilaterally for the U.N. Security Council to endorse an independent state for them.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned the Palestinians not to do anything on their own.

Mr. Netanyahu said there is no replacement for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. He said any one-sided step will unravel the framework of agreements that exist and cause unilateral steps from the Israeli side.

Mr. Netanyahu's warnings drew an angry response from the Palestinians under the leadership of President Mahmoud Abbas and his moderate Fatah faction. Speaking to VOA, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat accused the Israeli leader of undermining the peace process.

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"He threatens with unilateral steps," said Saeb Erekat. "Do you think that settlement activity is bilateral? Excuse me, we are the moderate camp. We are the ones who want to achieve the two-state solution. This Israeli government is doing nothing. Look on the ground: we have recognized the State of Israel's right to live in peace and security, next to the state of Palestine. Now, what Mr. Netanyahu is doing is really eating up the land that is supposed to be the Palestinian state with more settlements, with more malls, with more confiscation of land."

The Palestinians say they decided to take the matter of statehood to the U.N. Security Council out of frustration that 16 years after the signing of the Oslo accords there is still no peace agreement.

Hani al-Masri heads the Palestine Media, Research, and Studies Center, research organization in the West Bank town of Ramallah. He echoes the belief among many Palestinians the peace process is going nowhere.

He says the peace process, in his mind, has been dead for a long time. He said it died when a Jewish extremist killed peacemaking Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and when, in his words, Israel did not implement the Oslo peace accords. Al Masri said there is the belief among many Palestinians the peace process died a long time ago and is waiting for someone to bury it.

The United States is keeping up its efforts to bring both sides back to the negotiation table. On the thorny subject of Jewish settlements, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called for both sides to deal with the issue in negotiations.

Some left-of-center members of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, are pushing for Mr. Netanyahu's right-wing leadership to make concessions.

One observer, Akiva Eldar, a senior columnist at the Haaretz newspaper in Tel Aviv, sees no movement unless one of the sides takes the first step.

"As an Israeli, I can say that now we have to make the move," said Akiva Eldar. "As President Obama insisted and as part of the Israeli Knesset believes, Israel has to now give clear guarantees that it is not going to expand these settlements. So I cannot expect the Arabs to make any move that I do not expect or demand the Israelis to do. It has to be, I think, in way, reciprocal and symmetric."

On the Palestinian side, any flexibility on the matter of settlements can cost the leadership dearly.

Officials within the Fatah faction of President Abbas, said last week he was close to resigning as his popularity plummeted. Mr. Abbas has postponed elections indefinitely that were due for January, as some accused him of failing to persuade the Israelis to freeze settlement growth and grant other concessions.

For Mr. Abbas' political allies and for the Israelis, there is concern that elections held now might mean gains for the militant Islamist Hamas faction, whose charter calls for the destruction of the Jewish State.

The Palestinians under Mr. Abbas are sticking to their demand that Israel freeze settlement construction before a return to negotiations.

Analysts say it remains to be seen whether the Palestinians' unilateral effort to get a U.N. security endorsement of a Palestinian state will be sustained or is no more than a publicity stunt meant to get Israel to make concessions.