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At a time when senior officials in Israel compete with one another in coming up with punitive measures that could be imposed on the Palestinians for seeking United Nations recognition, or when officials sow terror among the Israeli public over the prospect of renewed hostile acts by Palestinians, a voice of peace and reconciliation emanated from Ramallah on Friday. In a speech to the nation in which he announced his decision to request that the UN Security Council recognize a Palestinian state, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas stood firm against calls for violence and continued to adhere to a two-state solution based on the June 4, 1967 lines.

Abbas explained that the acceptance of such a resolution by the United Nations would not be a substitute for negotiations with Israel on the core issues of a final peace agreement. In an effort to lower expectations, and to lower the flames, he took care to tell his people that they should not expect that a vote in New York would bring about independence.

Abbas' remarks were also directed at Israelis for whom Israel's future as a prospering, secure, Jewish, democratic state is close to their hearts. On Friday night, they witnessed a strategic Palestinian partner, perhaps the last of them, bravely declaring that no one can abrogate the legitimacy of Israel or isolate it. Abbas, whose proposal to resume the operation of a tripartite committee for the prevention of incitement fell on deaf ears in the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, drew a sharp distinction between Israel's legitimacy and the lack of legitimacy of its government's policies over anything related to settlement expansion in the West Bank and construction in East Jerusalem.

It would be reasonable to assume that the security forces of Israel and the Palestinian Authority would be able to deal with violent demonstrations in the territories. Abbas stressed that the Palestinian Authority functions under the auspices of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the Palestinian people's supreme authority and the entity that entered into agreements with Israel.

The key to the path to peace is still in Netanyahu's hands. On the eve of the official Palestinian request to the UN, Prime Minister Netanyahu should turn his rhetoric of threats into a diplomatic initiative that would encompass the dramatic changes that the Middle East is undergoing. No speech of his will dispel the growing danger of regional confrontation and Israel's international isolation.