But before the thunderous applause greeting his announcement in the General Assembly had faded, international powers laid out a new plan to resume direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that was designed to delay a contentious vote on the Palestinian request as long as possible.
In a day full of diplomatic theater, Mr. Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel each laid out the tangled history of their bloody conflict in passionate, lengthy speeches less than an hour apart, while the United States, Russia and European powers haggled in a back room for a formula to bring the parties back to the negotiating table and prevent the Palestinian bid for membership from becoming a spur for violence.
Continents away, thousands of Palestinians celebrated around the West Bank, with cheers erupting from the rapt crowds watching live when Mr. Abbas held aloft the four pages of the United Nations application letter — a symbolic step toward international recognition of statehood that many Palestinians also saw as a form of peaceful defiance against Israel.
The submission of the bid for membership to the Security Council was the culmination of a months-long tangle involving Mr. Abbas, Israel and the United States. But the flurry of diplomatic activity on Friday underscored the reality that the request is just the beginning of an even more complicated diplomatic process at the United Nations.
Whether the possibility of a vote at the Council will prompt a new round of peace talks after a long stalemate, whether the Palestinians have enough support to force a Council vote on their bid for membership and whether the United States ultimately will be forced to use its threatened veto of that bid, were all open questions, likely to be addressed over the next several weeks of jockeying and horse-trading.
But for the Palestinians, it was a day of reckoning clearly relished by Mr. Abbas, who had long been considered to be a low-profile leader who has sought to avoid confrontation with Israel and the United States.
“It is a moment of truth, and my people are waiting to hear the answer of the world,” Mr. Abbas said in his speech. “Will it allow Israel to continue its occupation, the only occupation in the world?”
Mr. Netanyahu dismissed the Palestinian application as premature. “The Palestinians want a state without peace, and the truth is you should not let that happen,” he said, challenging a comment by Mr. Abbas that the Palestinians were armed “only with their hopes and dreams.”
“Hopes, dreams — and 10,000 missiles and Grad rockets supplied by Iran,” Mr. Netanyahu said. He repeatedly stressed Israel’s small size, saying it could not return to its 1967 borders because it needed strategic depth to defend itself, particularly from the threat of militant Islam.
Much is riding on how international powers handle the Palestinian request, with expectations soaring in the West Bank and the Arab world that the step Mr. Abbas took will result in genuine change.
“The status quo is completely unacceptable,” the French foreign minister, Alain Juppé, said in an interview. “If there is a veto or a ‘no’ vote in the Security Council, what will happen on the ground?
“There is a very high risk of violence and demonstrations,” he said. “I think that Israel will be completely isolated in the region. The situation has changed to the extreme around Israel — in Egypt, in Syria, with Turkey and so on. It’s unreasonable to say, ‘We don’t move; we wait.’ ”
Senior officials involved in hammering out the statement on negotiations said they hoped it would inspire the two sides to return to the bargaining table within a month, but left open the question of how they would be prodded into their seats. NYT