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'No shortcut to Middle East peace'

US president Barack Obama has declared there could be no shortcut to peace between Israel and the Palestinians, as he sought to head off a looming diplomatic crisis for the Middle East and US policy there.

"Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the United Nations - if it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now," the president told UN delegates.

"Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians who must live side by side. Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians - not us - who must reach agreement on the issues that divide them."

But in the speech before the UN General Assembly, Mr Obama stopped short of directly calling on the Palestinians to drop their plan to seek statehood recognition from the UN Security Council. US officials were working furiously behind the scenes to persuade the Palestinians. With the limits of US influence on the moribund peace process never more clear, Mr Obama had no new demands for the Israelis, either, beyond saying that both sides deserved their own state and security.

"Peace depends upon compromise among peoples who must live together long after our speeches are over, and our votes have been counted," he said. "That is the path to a Palestinian state."

In an appearance with Mr Netanyahu before their private meeting, Mr Obama reiterated his call for direct peace talks as the only solution, saying "actions in the United Nations will mean neither statehood or self-determination for the Palestinians."

Mr Netanyahu condemned the Palestinian move. "Their attempt to shortcut this process, not negotiate a peace, that attempt to get a membership, state membership from the United Nations, will not succeed," he said. "I think the Palestinians want to achieve a state in the international community," he said, "but they're not prepared yet to give peace to Israel in return."

Meanwhile, French president Nicolas Sarkozy proposed a timetable for Israeli-Palestinian peace with resumed talks in one month, agreement on borders and security in six months and a final deal in one year.

Fulfilling his promise to try to sidetrack the Palestinian bid for UN membership, Mr Sarkozy told the General Assembly that after 60 years of failure its time to change tactics.

He said efforts to reach an accord must include a broader range of players, including Arab nations who have been sidelined. Mr Sarkozy said talks were "doomed to failure" if either side sets preconditions.

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