Palestinians celebrate Abbas' historic declaration of U.N. bid

McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 23, 2011 

RAMALLAH, West Bank — The Palestinian bid for U.N. membership may face a certain veto from the United States in the Security Council, but on Friday there was no hint that anyone in the West Bank saw it as anything other than a historic moment.

Thousands of flag-waving Palestinians stood in front of huge outdoor TV screens that had been erected to allow them to watch a live feed of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' speech before the General Assembly in New York.

The cheers were deafening as Abbas declared, "Enough, enough, enough. It is time for the Palestinian people to gain their freedom and independence."

When Abbas raised a copy of the document he had presented to the U.N. seeking membership, thousands of Palestinians waved placards with Abbas' picture and chanted "Free Palestine."

"We have fought for a state and shed blood for a state and still, after all these years, we are stateless. Now Abbas has gone to the world and told them that he lays our request at their doorstep," said Sheraz al-Maliki, a 31-year-old teacher. "It made me feel proud, as a Palestinian, to see my leader in the U.N. today. I hope the rest of the world will do the right thing and end the Israeli occupation of our land."

How the bid ultimately will affect Palestinians and the quest for an independent state won't be known perhaps for years. Israel has vowed to fight the bid, and there were isolated signs of the violence that could be in the offing.

At least one Palestinian was killed when Jewish settlers and Israeli soldiers opened fire on rock-throwing Palestinians near the village of Qusra. Three other Palestinians were lightly wounded by rubber bullets.

Palestinian youths also hurled stones at the Qalandiya checkpoint that separates the Palestinian city of Ramallah from Jerusalem.

But those incidents did nothing to dampen the Palestinian celebration, and Palestinians said they were holding out hope that the United States would change its mind and not veto the bid.

"The Americans should see that they are standing against history. They will be making an enemy of all of Palestine, and our brothers in the Arab world, if they do this thing and veto," said Khaled Malouf, a 42-year-old shopkeeper.

Few here bothered to watch Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's later presentation to the U.N., where he offered to meet with Abbas that very night.

"I extend my hand to the Palestinian people, with whom we seek a just and lasting peace," Netanyahu said.

But the Palestinian leadership said such a meeting would not take place and that Abbas was scheduled to leave New York just a few hours after his speech.

In his speech, Abbas also called for peace talks, but he said they would "be meaningless" unless Israel stopped building the West Bank settlements that Palestinians see as built on land earmarked for their future state.

Netanyahu countered that point by telling the U.N. that Palestinians were looking for excuses to delay peace talks. He added that the United States and its allies understood that immediate direct peace talks were the only way forward.

Israeli officials, meanwhile, said that while they anticipate a rise in violence, they don't expect anything on the scale of previous uprisings that paralyzed the West Bank twice in the past generation.

"This is not a situation were we have a third intifada. That is not where this is going," said Israel's deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon.

(Frenkel is a McClatchy special correspondent.)

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