RAMALLAH, West Bank — Palestinian shopkeeper Fadi Bin Masraf was busy this week, putting away stacks of merchandise that feature the U.S. flag as part of imitation-designer American brands.
"People are angry, and they don't want to wear the flag of the country that is against us," he said, adding that he'd "store away" the clothing in case the United States "changed its tune."
Anger at the U.S. has been growing here as Palestinians prepare to officially launch their bid in the United Nations for statehood. That bid probably will go before the U.N. Security Council, where the United States has indicated that it will use its veto to quash the initiative.
Palestinians could still go to the U.N.'s much bigger General Assembly, where the U.S. is just one vote among many, and ask to have their delegation's membership upgraded from its current observer status to that of non-member state, a move for which they're expected to be able to win a clear majority.
But the U.S. insistence that it will veto any resolution in the Security Council, and remarks by President Barack Obama that called the Palestinian bid a "distraction" to peace negotiations are engendering hostility among Palestinians, many of whom previously had seen the U.S. as the only possible mediator between Israel and them. Now they say the United States has allied itself with Israel.
"If the United States takes the Israeli position against the Palestinians' statehood bid, there will be repercussions," said Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawy, one of the primary proponents of the U.N. bid.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has scheduled a major speech for Friday in which he's expected to make the Palestinian plans official. Much of the Arab world already is lining up in support.
During sessions of the Arab League in Cairo this week, officials expressed support for the Palestinians' declaration of statehood in the U.N.. Many countries in Europe also have voiced support, though the continent is divided on the issue.
American officials, meanwhile, are working mightily to dissuade the Palestinians from pressing the initiative. U.S. officials, including U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, have been arguing that the Palestinian initiative will all but kill any hopes for a negotiated settlement between Israel and the Palestinians that would lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Rice said Monday in Washington that the issue now dominated her schedule of meetings with other diplomats ahead of next week's General Assembly session in New York. "Pursuit of this course is not in the interest of peace," she said.
Other U.S. officials are threatening reprisals if the Palestinians are granted upgraded U.N. status. A bill by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., would cut funding to any U.N. body that supports the Palestinian bid. The House Foreign Affairs Committee also is slated to discuss cutting funding to the Palestinian government in an upcoming session.
On Tuesday, U.S. Mideast envoys David Hale and Dennis Ross returned to the region to try to strike a last-minute compromise that would avoid a showdown in the U.N. The two veteran American negotiators were just in the region last week, but they'd returned to the United States without reaching any agreement with the Palestinians. They're expected to make a public statement on their latest meetings Thursday.
Officials in Ramallah offered little hope of heading off the conflict. They said Obama had disappointed them in the past and they were taking a "tough stand" now against the U.S.
"There was a lot of optimism and trust when Obama first took office. But that disappeared when he broke promise after promise to the Palestinian people. Now most Palestinians see the United States as an extension of Israel, acting out what the Jewish lobby wants it to do," said one Palestinian official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
He added that he found the U.S. allying itself strongly with Israel a "silly move" in a region where the toppling of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has given critics of that country's peace treaty with Israel new political power.
"With the Arab Spring and the changes everyone is facing ... I would think the United States would want to gain alliances in the region, not lose them by allying themselves with the most unpopular country in the region: Israel," he said.
Washington has been receiving a similar message from its allies in the Arab world. On Monday, the former Saudi Arabian ambassador to Washington, Turki al Faisal, warned in a column in The New York Times that an American veto of the Palestinian bid would make the United States "toxic" in the Arab world.
He said the consequences of a veto would be great: "American influence will decline further, Israeli security will be undermined and Iran will be empowered, increasing the chances of another war in the region," Faisal wrote.
(Frenkel is a special correspondent.)
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