President Mahmoud Abbas said Friday in a televised address from Ramallah that the Palestinians would seek full membership in the UN Security Council.
"We are going to the United Nations to request our legitimate right, obtaining full membership for Palestine in this organization," Abbas said.
"We are going to the Security Council," he added, to rapturous applause from his audience of Palestinian leaders. "As for other options, we have not yet taken a decision on them," he said.
Israel and Hamas swiftly criticized Abbas and his initiative at the UN.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the speech amounted to a marketing effort for resuming peace talks with Israel, and accused Abbas of pursuing the UN initiative as part of that effort.
Hamas will not give any cover for any step that is based on recognizing Israel or fails to realize the rights of the Palestinian people, particularly the right of return and right of self-determination, he said.
In Jerusalem, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that peace will only be achieved through direct negotiations, but the Palestinians continue to avoid them.
Both Israel and the United States are firmly opposed any Palestinian move at the UN, arguing that a Palestinian state can only be created through direct negotiations.
Washington has already said it will veto any statehood resolution in the Security Council and some US politicians have said they will try to cut American aid to the Palestinians, totaling some $500 million a year, if they refuse to back down.
If the United States does veto the resolution, the Palestinians could then go to the full UN General Assembly. It does not have the power to grant the Palestinians membership, but could recognize it as a non-member state.
Such a move would give the Palestinians possible access to other international bodies, including the International Criminal Court, from where it could seek to sue Israel for the longstanding occupation of the West Bank.
Abbas said he wanted to see a Palestinian state recognized on the basis of the 1967 lines, comprising the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, adding that this would then enable the Palestinians to return to negotiations with Israel.
He stressed that any popular protests in support of his initiative should be peaceful. Israel fears that the UN showdown could spark violence across the West Bank and is putting its forces on high alert in the area.
Abbas is due to address the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 23, when he said he would present Palestine’s membership bid.