BETHLEHEM, West Bank — The Palestinian president said yesterday that Israel has been taking unilateral steps for decades by building settlements, so the Palestinians might take one of their own — asking the United Nations to recognize their independent state.
President Mahmoud Abbas was replying to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who said the only path to peace is negotiations. The threat of unilateral action indicates the depth of the crisis over peace talks restarted last month by President Obama.
Israeli settlements in the West Bank are at the heart of the current stalemate. Netanyahu imposed a 10-month halt to new construction in settlements last November to bring Palestinians back to the table. But it took nine months of intensive US mediation to restart direct talks.
Netanyahu faced stiff opposition to the building restrictions from inside his government and said he would not renew the measure, which expired Sept. 26. Construction has begun on more than 500 new homes since then, according to settler representatives and a count by the Associated Press.
Palestinians insist they will not hold talks while settlement construction continues. They have been suggesting that they would seek other solutions.
One possibility would be asking the UN to recognize a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem, territories Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war. That would not dislodge the Israeli military from the West Bank, dismantle the 120 Jewish settlements there, or give Palestinians free access to East Jerusalem. But it could isolate Israel and change the diplomatic equation.
During a visit to Bethlehem yesterday, Abbas said Israel has been taking unilateral measures in the West Bank for decades.
Given that reality, Abbas said, Netanyahu should not lecture the Palestinians about a step they might take in the future, “which is to resort to the United Nations.’’