Palestinians rally for vote on UN status upgrade

November 30, 2012 - 12:00:00 am
A Palestinian shouts slogans during a rally in the West Bank city of Nablus, supporting the resolution that would change the Palestinian Authority's United Nations observer status from "entity" to "non-member state".

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: Waving their national flag and expressing hope for a new voice on the international stage, Palestinians rallied on Thursday in the West Bank and Gaza Strip ahead of their new UN bid.


Thousands gathered at celebratory demonstrations across the territories in the hours before Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas was to address the General Assembly on the bid for enhanced UN status.


The body is expected to easily approve the request for the rank of non-member observer state, which falls short of the full state membership the Palestinians sought last year, but which will nonetheless raise their international profile.


Around 1,000 people were gathered in Ramallah's Yasser Arafat Square, which was decked with bunting of Palestinian flags.


Many sported the traditional black-and-white chequered keffiyeh scarf once worn by Arafat, the late Palestinian leader, whose tomb lies minutes away from the square that bears his name.


Bothaina Hamdan, a 30-year-old government employee, said she felt confident this time that the bid would succeed.


"This time it's different because now we are sure that most of the states of the world support us and the United States can't raise the veto," she told AFP.


"It won't be easy to change anything on the ground; the occupation won't end tomorrow, we know that," she added. "But here today we are telling the world that we want peace, and we support peaceful methods to achieve our state."


As she spoke, scout troops marched around the square, where a stage was set up with a backdrop featuring the faces of both Abbas and Arafat.


Lianna Atrash, 36, was watching from behind oversized sunglasses, clapping in time with the patriotic music being played from the stage.


"This is a very important day. This opens the door for us towards statehood; it paves the way," she said, as her son tugged her arm, saying "I want a flag, Mum, I want a flag!"


"We'll still be under occupation, but we'll be a state under occupation. Our position will be stronger, and people will be able to hear the voice of Palestine," she added.


Ihab Yassin, also at the rally with his children -- eight-year-old Tala and six-year-old Kamal -- said the bid was a step in the right direction.


"In the long run, we will be a real state... That is important for the generations in the future," he said. "My children will live in a Palestinian state."


In Gaza City, around a thousand people marched towards the UN headquarters in support of the bid, waving flags of various Palestinian factions, including Abbas's Fatah party.


Gaza's ruling Hamas movement, a bitter rival of Fatah, has in recent days expressed tepid support for the UN bid, after its leadership-in-exile announced its backing.


But while the government allowed the rally to go ahead, there were no green Hamas flags to be seen among those participating, an AFP reporter said.


In the northern West Bank city of Nablus, several thousand people took part in the festivities.


"It's a good move, but it should be followed by national reconciliation or otherwise it will be nothing more than a leaf in the air," said 39-year-old Asaad Abu Sabea, a driver.


Abbas has said publicly that he hopes to restart reconciliation talks between Fatah and Hamas after the UN bid, and in several cities members of a range of factions -- including Hamas and Islamic Jihad -- spoke in favour of the UN bid.


The request was front-page news, with the Al-Hayat Al-Jadida daily splashing page one with the headline: "The state of Palestine... tonight."


But there were also voices of scepticism among the crowd.


"These people are here to dance and drum and sing, but what for?" said 34-year-old Mitri Dbeet as he watched the gathering from outside his shop.


"It's not that I oppose the bid, but I just know it won't do anything. It won't help Gaza; it's totally symbolic. But, I suppose, why not?" (AFP)