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Israelis, Palestinians Brace for UN Statehood Debate


Palestinians wave flags during a rally in support of the Palestinian bid for statehood recognition in the United Nations, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Sept. 21, 2011.

Palestinians wave flags during a rally in support of the Palestinian bid for statehood recognition in the United Nations, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Sept. 21, 2011.

Both are intently watching this week as Palestinian leaders in New York plan to press for United Nations recognition of a Palestinian state.

It is market day in Ramallah, the West Bank. Shoppers are making their daily purchases. And as they shop, the Palestinian proposal to seek recognition at the United Nations is a major topic of discussion.

Sabah Rajah, shopping for her family, says recognition is her wish in life.

She says recognition will change everything, the behavior of the people, the crossing points, the siege of Palestinian territories, and they will have a good life.

Shop owner Fareed Zaban says the Palestinians and Israelis have been negotiating for a long time but have little to show for it.

He says we want them to recognize us as a real state, not just a state in name. He says right now the Palestinian Authority is an illusion and that it has no control over anything, the crossings, the skies, the land.

Palestinian leaders say they are frustrated by the lack of progress in the peace negotiations with Israel. They hope U.N. recognition will add clout to their position.

But on the streets of Jerusalem, Israelis like Yaakov Hadani believe this will hurt the talks. He says negotiating requires two partners. He says the Palestinians cannot conduct negotiations through the world instead of directly with us.

Assaf Haber, 22, has friends in the Israeli army. He is afraid it will bring more violence.

Haber says it is time for the Palestinians to have a state. He says any people that were under foreign control for a long time deserve to have a country. But not this way, he says. There should be cooperation between the two parties, not unilateral moves.

Hebrew University Professor Yaakov Bar Siman-Tov says a U.N. resolution is not likely to bring change to the streets of the Palestinian territories.

"If there is this kind of frustration between expectations and outcomes, in a very short time they will realize that we didn't achieve anything actually," Siman-Tov said. "It was a very nice declaration, etc., and then what?"

He says this could lead to demonstrations and possibly violence. He says it could also lead to Israeli sanctions. Or, he says, it could lead to a return to negotiations.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose government vehemently opposes the Palestinian push for U.N. recognition, urged Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to return to direct talks.

"I'm going to the U.N. And President Abbas, Abu Mazen, is going to the U.N. We could spare the trip. It's all of 10 minutes from here to Ramallah. Let's sit down and negotiate," Netanyahu said.

Palestinian leaders broke off direct talks a year ago after Israel's 10-month moratorium on settlement building in the West Bank expired.

Mr. Abbas, before heading to New York, indicated his willingness to resume negotiations but reiterated his desire for U.N. membership.

He says we will return to negotiate on all other issues but we want, God willing, to get a full membership from the U.N. Security Council.

Ramallah-based analyst Hani al-Masri says the Palestinian leader should be using other tactics.

He says this choice should be part of a new strategy and not the strategy itself. Those who advocate this tactic do not want Mr. Abbas to adopt the other tactics which, he says, are uniting the resistance, boycotting Israel and rebuilding Arab support throughout the region.

Palestinians are also split over the issue. The mainstream Fatah group backs recognition. Rival Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, opposes it saying it will legitimize Israel. And with Israel strongly opposed to U.N. recognition, tensions are rising in Israel as well as in the Palestinian territories.

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