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Video: Palestinian leader makes UN bid

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    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: Here in New York today, the big event at the UN , Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas formerly made the request the US had tried all week to talk him out of. The request, the filing for full Palestinian statehood. He did it in a speech watched around the world, including in the West Bank by tens of thousands of Palestinians. Our coverage here tonight begins at the UN with NBC 's Ron Allen .

    RON ALLEN reporting: President Abbas called this day an appointment with history when his people asked the world to stand with them as they demand freedom.

    President MAHMOUD ABBAS: I cannot believe that anyone with a shred of conscience can object to our application for full membership in the United Nations and our admission as an independent state .

    ALLEN: Ovations filled the chamber as the US sat in silence, having failed to convince the Palestinians they can only establish a state by negotiating with Israel . Abbas said more talks would be meaningless. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded.

    Mr. BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: I cannot make peace without you. President Abbas , I extend my hand, the hand of Israel , in peace.

    ALLEN: He insisted Israel has made concessions only to be forced to defend itself from continuing attacks. And he dismissed the entire proceeding, saying the UN always casts Israel as the villain.

    Mr. NETANYAHU: This is an unfortunate part of the UN institution. It's the theater of the absurd .

    ALLEN: The Obama administration has vowed to veto the Palestinian effort, a process that could play out for weeks or even months. Ron Allen , NBC News, United Nations .

Explainer: Quest for Mideast peace: An overview

  • Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is pressing ahead with a bid to seek United Nations recognition of a Palestinian state, despite a threatened U.S. veto. U.S. President Barack Obama says the path to peace in the Middle East is through resumption of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians. The last round of such talks broke down in 2010 with the two sides far apart on key issues. Click on the links on the left to find out more.

    Sources: Reuters, The Associated Press, PBS, BBC, Council on Foreign Relations

  • Jerusalem

    Image: Jerusalem's Old City
    AP file

    Israel claims the entire city as its own undivided capital. Palestinians want East Jerusalem, which includes the Old City and its sites sacred to Muslims, Jews and Christians, to be the capital of a future Palestinian state.

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has endorsed the idea of a Palestinian state in principle, but says Jerusalem would remain Israel's "indivisible and eternal" capital. Israel's claim to the eastern part of Jerusalem is not recognized internationally.

  • West Bank

    Image: Israeli soldiers patrol the old city in the West Bank city of Hebron
    Abed Al Hashlamoun  /  EPA

    One of the disputed Israeli-occupied territories with areas of limited Palestinian self-government. The scores of Jewish settlements that dot the West Bank have long been a sore point in Mideast peacemaking. Israel began settling the territory soon after capturing it along with Gaza and East Jerusalem in the 1967 war.

    The Palestinians say the settlements, now home to roughly 500,000 Israelis interspersed among 2.6 million Palestinians, are gobbling up land they claim for a future state. The international community considers them illegal, and President Barack Obama has been an outspoken critic.

    The West Bank encompasses important cities such as East Jerusalem, Ramallah and Bethlehem. It would make up the bulk of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, with precise borders to be drawn at the peace table. Expansion of Jewish housing makes those borders ever more complicated.

    A 10-month slowdown in West Bank housing construction by Israel expired in late September, and the Israeli government did not extend it despite international pleas to do so. That contributed to a breakdown in the last round of peace talks between the two sides.

  • Gaza Strip

    Image: Gaza Strip
    Kevin Frayer  /  AP

    This 25-mile-long by 7-mile-wide strip of land lying on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea is home to about 1.6 million Palestinians and is under firm control by the militant Hamas movement. Hamas is opposed not only to the peace talks but also to Israel's very existence.

    Gaza, which is also supposed to be part of a negotiated Palestinian state, has been the staging point for rocket attacks on Israel, which has responded with a economically crippling naval blockade of the territory.

    Most of Gaza's residents are from refugee families that fled or were expelled from the land that became Israel in 1948. Of these, most live in impoverished refugee camps to which the United Nations delivers basic services such as health and education.

    Israel began curtailing trade and travel in Gaza after Hamas won Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006. Israel and many Western nations consider Hamas a terrorist organization. Hamas seized control of Gaza the following year, expelling members of the rival Fatah movement.

    Gaza's Islamist Hamas rulers say they will never give Israel what it most wants from a Middle East deal, which is recognition of the Jewish state and a legitimate place in the region. They see their Fatah rivals in the West Bank, who have been open to negotiating with Israel, as appeasers and traitors to the Palestinian cause.

  • Golan Heights

    A fortified and strategically important hilly area on the border of Syria, Israel, Lebanon and Jordan. The Golan Heights were part of Syria until 1967, when they were captured by Israel during the Six-Day War. Israel unilaterally annexed the Golan Heights in 1981.

    Syria has said it wants to secure the return of the Golan Heights as part of any peace deal. A deal with Syria would also involve the dismantling of Jewish settlements in the territory.

  • Egypt

    Egypt in 1979 became the first Arab state to sign a peace deal with Israel. Despite Arab world pressure, Cairo has adhered at least to the formal requirements of its peace treaty.

    Egypt, under Hosni Mubarak, had played the role of mediator at several very critical junctures in the peace process with the Palestinians and was a key U.S. ally in the tumultuous region. The U.S. underwrites much of Egypt's foreign aid.

    But more recently, Israel's relations with Egypt have deteriorated since Mubarak was ousted by a popular uprising in February 2011. In September, an Egyptian mob stormed the Israeli Embassy in Cairo and forced Israeli diplomats to be evacuated.

  • Syria

    Damascus is one of Israel's harshest opponents, and supports a number of armed groups that carry out attacks against Israel. Israel has condemned Syria for its support for the Hamas Islamic government in Gaza.

    Tensions between Syria and Israel rose in 2010 after Israeli President Shimon Perez accused Syria of supplying Scud missiles to the Lebanon-based Shiite movement Hezbollah, which the U.S. classifies as a foreign terrorist organization. Israel has warned that it will respond to missile attacks from Hezbollah by launching immediate retaliation against Syria itself.

    Hamas and other radical Palestinian groups based in Syria have rejected any move by the Palestinian Authority to resume direct peace talks with Israel.

    Syria has accused Israel of posing a threat to the world with its "huge military nuclear arsenal."

    Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime has found itself under international pressure recently, condemned by leaders around the world for a bloody crackdown on anti-government demonstrators that began in mid-March 2011.

  • Jordan

    Jordan is considered a very important country in resolving the Mideast conflict due to its proximity to Israel and the occupied territories and its large population of Palestinian refugees.

    Jordan, along with Egypt, are the only Arab states to have signed peace treaties with Israel. Jordan is also a strategic ally to the United States in the Middle East.

    Amman has long maintained close security cooperation with Israel but has criticized Israeli treatment of Palestinians and fears a spillover of violence if Israel does not make peace with the Palestinians.

    Jordan's King Abdullah was quoted as saying in September 2011 that Jordan and the Palestinians were now in a stronger position than Israel, telling a group of academics that the Arab uprisings had weakened Israel's position.

  • Lebanon

    Lebanon, a small Middle East sovereign state, has long been the staging ground of proxy wars in the region. It is bordered by Syria to the north and east, and Israel to the south.

    Dozens of private armies grew out of Lebanon's 15-year civil war that ended in 1990 and still flourish 20 years later.

    A period of relative stability was shattered in 2006 when an all-out 34-day war between Hezbollah, a Shiite Muslim political group with a militant wing the U.S. classifies as a terrorist organization, and Israel caused significant civilian deaths and heavy damage to Lebanon's civil infrastructure.

    Hezbollah is a central player in Lebanon. Hezbollah sets its own military strategy and it makes decisions that could lead to war without the involvement of the Lebanese state.

    The power balance worries the U.S. and Israel, Hezbollah's sworn enemy.

    U.N. peacekeepers have been charged with monitoring Lebanon's southern border with Israel since 1978. The force was boosted to almost 12,000 troops after Israel and Iranian-backed Hezbollah fought in 2006.

Data: Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Photos: Ramallah: Portrait of a West Bank city

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  1. People cross a street near Al-Manara, Ramallah's main square, a popular place for shopping and promenading. While poverty and unemployment are rampant in the West Bank, Ramallah is showing signs of rebirth with a growing economy and vibrant youth culture. Photojournalist Julien Goldstein wanted to explore scenes of daily life in the West Bank city since images of violent protests and border tension regularly dominate Western coverage of the area. He originally reported this story for the magazine Geo France. (Julien Goldstein) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. On the edge of Al-Manara Square, newly affluent men drive around in a convertible. Palestinians are seeking greater representation on the world stage. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas plans to request full membership to the United Nations as an independent state when the General Assembly meets next week – setting the stage for a diplomatic clash with Israel and the United States. (Julien Goldstein) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. While most of the Palestinian territories are mired in poverty, Ramallah, the administrative capital of the West Bank, has experienced a building boom in recent years. Many luxury villas and apartment blocks have been built. But the economy is fragile since it is mainly based on foreign aid - in 2010 it grew by 9 percent thanks to foreign aid, according to the World Bank. But if the aid were to dry up, many salaries could go unpaid and much of the recent progress could be lost. (Julien Goldstein) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A mural of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat adorns a part of the Israeli separation barrier. The barrier, described as a security fence by Israel, surrounds part of the city of Ramallah and separates it from Jerusalem. To cross it, one has to go through a checkpoint. While the Palestinians are requesting statehood recognition at the U.N. because they believe peace talks have stalled, both Israel and the U.S. firmly oppose the initiative, arguing that a Palestinian state can only be created through direct negotiations. (Julien Goldstein) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Abdelhakim Al-Shini's factory, which manufactures the water tanks that can be seen on the roof of every Palestinian home, is one of the few operating businesses in the small industrial area of ​​Ramallah. (Julien Goldstein) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Businessmen meet in the lobby of the Movenpick, the West Bank's first 5-star hotel, which opened late last year. (Julien Goldstein) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. The Reach call center is operated by Jawwal, the main cellphone company in the West Bank. In this divided country, the mobile phone has enabled many people to stay in touch with their families despite the politically complicated geography of the region. Jawwal has some 2.25 million subscribers. The call center is open around the clock, staffed by men and women working together. (Julien Goldstein) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. An elderly man lives in the Al Amari refugee camp, just a few minutes from the city center. He is seriously ill, but says he cannot afford to seek treatment. The camp, which has 9,000 inhabitants and is managed by the United Nations, was created in 1949 on a 23-acre site. (Julien Goldstein) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. 350 people work at the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Ramallah. The soft drink is produced under license. (Julien Goldstein) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Trifitness, one of many gyms in Ramallah, offers a variety of activities including swimming, squash and dance classes. It has 1,700 members. Certain times are reserved for women only while other times of day allow men and women to mix. (Julien Goldstein) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Revellers socialize at the chic Orjuwan restaurant. The city's nightlife peaks on Thursday and Saturday nights. (Julien Goldstein) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A view of the city of Ramallah from the surrounding hills. (Julien Goldstein) Back to slideshow navigation
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