As the thousands of flag-waving supporters teemed in Ramallah’s Yasser Arafat Square, lawyers Ahmed Nasra and Rashad Twam sat in a nearby café smoking a water pipe and drinking pomegranate juice.
Ahmed felt the time was right for the Palestinians to achieve statehood by the proposed means.
In the eyes of Palestinians direct negotiations have become delegitimised, after 18 years of the Oslo Peace accords, 44 years of Israeli occupation, and the ever-continuing expansion of Israel’s settlement programme throughout the West Bank.
“There’s no other way,” he stated. “We feel that it’s a step to reach our rights. We want a state like any other nation in the world and Israel has given us no other option by refusing any movement. We want our rights but Obama wants us to go back to the peace process. We know the peace process has stopped.”
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As thousands of Palestinians gathered in cities across the West Bank, supporting the Palestinian Liberation Organisation’s attempt to gain United Nations’ recognition of statehood, diplomatic manoeuvring is becoming frenzied as the United States, Europe and Israel attempt to block any bid.
For US President Barak Obama carrying out his promise to veto any Security Council decision, granting the Palestinians independence, would represent an act of hypocrisy after last year mooting the possibility of achieving statehood within one year.
“We should reach for what’s best within ourselves,” he told the UN General Assembly last September. “If we do, when we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations.”
After the grandstanding rhetoric of Obama’s Cairo and Istanbul speeches, which alluded to a re-engagement between the US and the Muslim world, his words are appearing increasingly hollow.
In a speech last week in Ramallah, Palestinian National Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, cited Obama’s words and ended months of speculation by declaring his intention to submit a request to the Security Council.
At present Palestine has held permanent observer status within the UN General Assembly since 1974. Whilst not presenting practical opportunities to immediately change conditions on the ground, in Gaza and the West Bank, an upgrade of this status to full UN membership would present the Palestinians greater prospects to highlight their situation by voting at the General Assembly and participating at international fora — particularly, and most worryingly for Israel, the International Criminal Court.
The diplomatic emphasis in New York is now focussed on achieving a resumption of direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians, which have stalled since September 2010 when Israel refused to extend a freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank.
Speaking to the UN General Assembly overnight, President Obama effectively wiped his hands of any direct involvement in encouraging either side to give ground in any negotiations.
“Ultimately, it is the Israelis and Palestinians — not us — who must reach agreement on the issues that divide them: on borders; on security; on refugees and Jerusalem,” he said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly stated an unwillingness to negotiate on issues of settlements, refugees and the Palestinians’ claims to Eastern Jerusalem.
While it is accepted Palestine will achieve a majority verdict within the UN General Assembly, in the event the United States is required to exercise its veto the contingency plan is to ensure the proposal does not receive majority support within the Security Council. Palestinian diplomats claim they have secured the votes of seven of the body’s 15 member states. Russia, China, South Africa, India, Brazil and Lebanon are known to be in support of the Palestinian cause. In the meantime the US is attempting to ‘persuade’ Bosnia-Herzegovina, Portugal, Gabon and Niger to vote down any proposal with promises of foreign aid.
For now it appears the diplomatic posturing and wrangling is of little consequence.
To many Palestinians, President Abbas’ plan is an attempt by an ageing leader to gain legitimacy in the eyes of the people, many of whom have not shared in the economic bubble created by the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority. While many in the administrative centre of Ramallah enjoy the benefits of foreign aid money and its associated projects, for the majority of Palestinians life is a daily struggle. Poverty and cynicism are natural bedfellows.
Despite the predictions by Israeli politicians and media of “mass disorder” by Palestinians in the run up to the United Nations meeting, thus far most Palestinians have adopted a “wait and see” approach to the outcome. Earlier this month, Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper reported plans to arm settlers in order to disperse Palestinian protestors.
Indeed, the majority of violence in the West Bank has been perpetrated by Israeli settlers, with the frequency of attacks on Palestinians increasing.
Settler groups staged a coordinated day of protest across the West Bank, on Tuesday, in response to the Palestinians’ UN bid.
The largest of the rallies saw 200 hundred people, mostly children, march from Itamar settlement, near Nablus, to the local settlement regional council office.
Itamar mayor, Moshe Goldsmith, was adamant any attempts by the Palestinians to gain statehood would be meaningless.
“It’s pointless but they can do what they want and it won’t matter,” he said. “The deed to this land is written in the Bible and we’re here to stay and aren’t going to leave.”
Such is the reality of life in a land steeped in history and religion, where the mixture of long memories and belief in the literal truth of religious texts produces a dangerous cocktail for human suffering. Whatever the outcome at the United Nations the likelihood of any agreement between the two peoples remains at a great distance.