The Palestinian flag was raised at the United Nations in a symbolic gesture Wednesday as leader Mahmud Abbas called on the world body to grant them full membership amid stalemate in the peace process.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Abbas presided over a packed and slightly chaotic ceremony in the rose garden as Palestinian frustration grows at home and tensions rise in Jerusalem.
The Israeli-Palestinian peace process fell into the doldrums after the latest US initiative collapsed last year, on the back burner as the international community focuses on the war in Syria.
"In this historical moment, I say to my people everywhere: raise the flag of Palestinians very high because it is the symbol of our identity," the 80-year-old Abbas told the crowd. "It is a proud day."
Israel and the United States opposed the flag raising as a symbolic gesture that would not serve the cause of peace.
But Ban said symbols were "important" and could lead to action.
"Now is the time to restore confidence by both Israelis and Palestinians for a peaceful settlement and, at last, the realization of two states for two peoples," he said.
The red, black, white and green Palestinian flag was then hoisted under dark clouds that threatened rain.
The huge crowd, which included French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, diplomats from around the world and journalists, broke out into cheers when it started to flutter in the gentle breeze.
In Ramallah, the seat of Abbas's administration in the West Bank, dozens of people gathered to watch the flag-raising by TV link. When they saw Abbas on the screen, they stood cheering and then fell silent to listen.
The General Assembly voted September 10 to allow the flags of Palestine and the Vatican — both have observer status — to be raised at the world body alongside those of member states.
The resolution was backed by 119 countries, with 45 abstentions and eight votes against, including Australia, Israel and the United States.
Abbas used his speech at the General Assembly to appeal for "countries that have not yet recognized the state of Palestine yet, to do so" and to launch a searing attack on Israeli policy.
"Palestine, which is an observer state in the United Nations, deserves full recognition and full membership," he said.
Abbas said that Israel's refusal to release Palestinian prisoners and continued Jewish settlement activity in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, meant that Palestinians could no longer feel bound by past agreements.
"They leave us no choice but to insist that we will not remain the only ones committed to the implementation of these agreements, while Israel continuously violates them," he said.
"We cannot continue to be bound by these signed agreements with Israel and Israel must assume fully all its responsibilities as an occupying power."
Abbas said Palestinian patience "has come to an end" and described the current situation as "unsustainable."
Clashes in recent weeks between Israeli police and Palestinians at the sensitive Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem have prompted Abbas to warn of the risk of a third intifada, or uprising.
"I call on the Israeli government to cease its use of brutal force...particularly its actions at the Al-Aqsa mosque," Abbas told the Assembly.
"Such actions will convert the conflict from a political one to a religious one, thus creating a explosive situation in Jerusalem and the remaining Palestinian occupied territory."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu swiftly denounced his speech as "deceitful" and accused Abbas's words of encouraging "incitement and destruction in the Middle East.
A recent poll found that Palestinians are increasingly exasperated with his leadership and Israel’s right-wing government.
A majority favor a return to armed uprising in the absence of peace talks and two-thirds want Abbas to resign.
Later on Wednesday, the UN chief will also chair talks with the Diplomatic Quartet seeking a political settlement to the conflict.
The peace process has been in the doldrums since the latest US diplomatic effort failed in April last year.
In a shift, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Arab League have been invited to the meeting, along with the foreign ministers of Russia, the United States and EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will address the United Nations on Thursday and call on Palestinians to stop "incitement to violence."