UNITED NATIONS — Hours after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas made an impassioned appeal for full U.N. membership for an independent Palestinian state, U.S. and European diplomats on Friday proposed a new round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks to begin within a month, with the goal of reaching a deal by the end of 2012.
Having failed despite furious lobbying to persuade the Palestinians to drop their application for U.N. membership, which Abbas formally submitted Friday, U.S. officials said the proposal by the so-called Quartet of mediators - the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia - offered the best chance to restart long-stalled negotiations.
"The Quartet proposal represents the firm conviction of the international community that a just and lasting peace can only come through communications between the parties," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said. "Therefore we urge both parties to take advantage of this opportunity to get back to talks."
In a statement, the Quartet called on the Israelis and Palestinians to meet and agree on an agenda and schedule for resuming direct negotiations within a month and to come forward with "comprehensive proposals" on territory and security within three months, before the end of this year. The two sides should make "substantial progress" within six months and complete a final agreement before the end of 2012.
"What we have tried to do is to set the framework in which they can have those discussions and reach agreement," Catherine Ashton, the European foreign policy chief, said at a news conference.
The Quartet's statement appeared to be an effort to lower the temperature after weeks of intense wrangling by the United States and allies to block or delay the Palestinian bid. It didn't address the preconditions for talks that both sides have declared: the Palestinians' demand that Israel freeze construction of Jewish settlements on land that they claim as part of a Palestinian state, for example, and Israel's demand that Palestinians recognize it as a Jewish state.
It did reaffirm "strong support for the vision of Israeli-Palestinian peace" outlined by President Barack Obama in May. That included two states separated by the borders that existed in 1967 with "land swaps" to account for Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
'A moment of truth'
There appeared to be little common ground between Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as each took the stage at the annual gathering of world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly. In a dramatic pair of speeches that were as different in style as in substance, both leaders reiterated their oft-stated positions and bluntly blamed each other for the lack of progress in solving the decades-old conflict.
"I do not believe anyone with a shred of conscience can reject our application for full admission in the United Nations," Abbas said, calling statehood "the realization of the inalienable national rights of the Palestinian people."
Abbas delivered an emotional call for an end to "63 years of suffering" by Palestinians under Israeli occupation of land that they see as part of their future state. At the end of his speech, Abbas, an avuncular man with silver hair and glasses, held up a copy of the statehood application and received a loud ovation from a packed chamber of delegates.
"This is a moment of truth," Abbas said. "Our people are waiting to hear the answer of the world. Will it allow Israel to occupy us forever, and will it allow Israel to remain a state above the law and accountability?"
Netanyahu, who followed Abbas on the stage just an hour later, insisted that Israel wanted peace but that the Palestinians are the obstacle to a negotiated settlement that would create two states, living side by side.
"The truth is the Palestinians want a state without peace and you shouldn't let that happen," a defiant Netanyahu told a much more subdued chamber. The Israeli leader did little to hide his contempt for the U.N., labeling it a "theater of the absurd" for awarding key roles to "real villains" such as Hezbollah-dominated Lebanon, which currently chairs the Security Council.
He mocked Abbas for saying that Palestinians were "armed only with their dreams, courage, hope and slogans."
"Yes," Netanyahu said. "Hopes, dreams and 10,000 missiles and Grad rockets supplied by Iran."
Vote date unclear
The Palestinian statehood bid has dominated the General Assembly meeting, and Abbas' speech was interrupted numerous times for applause - a stark contrast to the reception given to Netanyahu and to Obama, whose remarks Wednesday in opposition to the Palestinian bid for recognition were greeted politely.
The Security Council is likely to take up the issue in earnest next week, diplomats said, when the question becomes whether the United States and its allies can stall it.
The United States has pledged to block the statehood bid with the veto it wields as a permanent Security Council member and was reportedly lobbying fellow council members to delay a decision on the application. The Obama administration has said granting Palestinian statehood was premature and would jeopardize efforts to restart peace talks.
U.N. officials said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon submitted the Palestinian application to the Security Council, which decides whether to recommend admission to the 193-member General Assembly. But it was unclear when a vote would take place.
Abbas had pledged for years to take this bid to the U.N., and he drew a direct line between the pro-democracy ferment roiling the Arab world and the Palestinians' desire for independence. He said the Palestinians have been working toward democracy and strengthening the judiciary and other institutions to prepare for statehood. "At a time when the Arab peoples affirm their quest for democracy in the Arab Spring, the time is now for the Palestinian Spring, the time for independence," he said, to loud applause.
As Abbas spoke, large crowds gathered in Ramallah in the Palestinian territory of the West Bank, waving the Palestinian flag, and television images showed some women weeping.
Near the West Bank town of Qusra, clashes between West Bank villagers and Israeli settlers turned deadly when Israeli soldiers shot and killed a Palestinian man, according to witnesses.
The New York Times contributed.