Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has submitted his bid to the UN for recognition of a Palestinian state.
Addressing the General Assembly shortly afterwards, he called on the Security Council to immediately approve full Palestinian membership of the UN.
He said the Palestinians had entered negotiations with Israel with sincere intentions, but blamed the building of Jewish settlements for their failure.
Israel’s PM will speak shortly. Israel regretted the bid, his spokesman said.
Israel and the US say a Palestinian state can only be achieved through talks with Israel.
President Barack Obama told Mr Abbas on Thursday that the US would use its UN Security Council veto to block the move, but Mr Abbas vowed to press ahead with the bid.
“I call upon Mr Secretary-General to expedite transmittal of our request to the Security Council, and I call upon the distinguished members of the Security Council to vote in favour of our full membership,” he told the General Assembly, as many delegates gave a standing ovation, adding that he hoped for swift backing.
“I also appeal to the states that have not yet recognised the State of Palestine to do so.”
“The time has come for my courageous and proud people, after decades of displacement and colonial occupation and ceaseless suffering, to live like other peoples of the earth, free in a sovereign and independent homeland,” he said.
‘Future and destiny’
Meanwhile in the West Bank, crowds roared their approval as Mr Abbas demanded UN acceptance of a Palestinian state within pre-1967 borders.
“With our souls, with our blood, we will defend Palestine,” they said.
Mr Abbas had called for peaceful marches in support of his initiative, but some clashes were reported:
- One Palestinian was shot dead by Israeli troops during clashes in the village of Qusra, south of Nablus, Palestinian sources say
- At the Qalandiya checkpoint, Israeli troops fired tear gas on stone-throwing Palestinian youths
- In the village of Nabi Saleh, protesters burned Israeli flags and pictures of President Obama
The process began with Mr Abbas presenting a written request for UN recognition of the Palestinian territories as a state to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Palestinian sources say the request is concise and short, and envisages a state based on pre-1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital.
Mr Netanyahu’s spokesman Gidi Shmerling responded almost immediately, saying: “We regret the step. We believe that the only path to true peace is through negotiations and not unilateral steps.”
The BBC’s Kim Ghattas at the UN says that until the last minute Western diplomats tried and failed to stop the Palestinians making the request.
Even now, efforts are under way to restart direct talks between the Israelis and Palestinians in an attempt to defuse tensions, our correspondent says.
If Mr Ban decides the application is in order, the Security Council will examine it and vote on it. In order to pass, it would need the backing of nine out of 15 council members, with no vetoes from the permanent members.
A Security Council vote could take weeks to come about and the US may not even need to exercise its veto – Washington and Israel have been lobbying council members to either vote against the Palestinian plan or abstain.
But the Palestinians’ application has given them some political initiative, putting their case for independence back on the international agenda in a much more urgent way than it was before, says the BBC’s Middle East analyst Jeremy Bowen.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has urged a compromise, suggesting the General Assembly give the Palestinians enhanced status as a non-member state to allow a clear timeline for talks – a month to start negotiations, six months to deal with borders and security and a year to finalise a “definitive agreement”.
A vote on enhanced status – enjoyed by others such as the Vatican – would not require a Security Council recommendation but a simple majority in the General Assembly, where no veto is possible.
Currently the Palestinians have observer status at the UN.
The “Quartet” of US, European, Russian and UN mediators has been working on reaching a framework agreement to restart talks, based on Mr Obama’s vision of borders fashioned from Israel’s pre-1967 boundary, with agreed land swaps.