Thousands of Palestinians, waving flags and holding aloft placards, rallied at the Yasser Arafat Square in Ramallah in support of their leaders who want the United Nations to recognise Palestine as an independent state, despite stiff opposition from the United States and Israel.
In a festive atmosphere, which subsumed tensions which simmered underneath, crowds held banners calling for independence or condemning the expected veto from the United States at the Security Council. A huge sign, which read “U.N. 194”, dominated the square, referring to the aspiration of Palestinians for recognition as the 194th state of the United Nations. At least nine of the 15 members of the Security Council will have to first vote in favour of the resolution, for it to merit a formal vote. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has to route the resolution through U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon before it is considered, probably on Friday, by the Security Council.
Despite measures taken by the Palestinian Authority to ensure that crowds remained peaceful, the threat of violence had not disappeared.
At the Qalandiya checkpoint north of Jerusalem, dozens of young Palestinians stoned the Israeli security forces, which dispersed them using the “scream device,” a contraption that releases high-pitch sound waves. In Hebron, Palestinian police struggled to control crowds, causing scenes of confrontation between the demonstrators and the Israeli forces.
Ahead of Wednesday's demonstrations, Israeli and Palestinian security forces, had agreed that crowds that were being mobilised would not breach Israeli controlled areas.
Israel is of the view that the Palestinian statehood can only be achieved through direct negotiations. Before he headed on Tuesday for New York to attend the annual U.N. session, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “I told him [President Abbas] the road to peace goes through direct negotiations and not unilateral decisions at the U.N.”
On their part, the Palestinians say the U.N. route does not close the option of direct negotiations. A Palestinian government source told the Israeli daily Haaretz that “even if we start direct negotiations with Israel, it does not cancel the U.N. bid. We see both of these paths as complimentary, not contradictory”.
Analysts say the Palestinians are knocking on the U.N. door, only after the Netanyahu government refused to freeze construction on occupied Palestinian land, despite the exhortations to do so by the Palestinians and the United States, so that negotiations over a two-state solution could progress. Addressing the rally, Mr. Abbas' aide, Tayeb Abdel Rahim said the Palestinians were forced to go the U.N. because “we are tired of negotiations for the sake of negotiations”.
Mr. Abbas has headed for New York, buoyed by the widespread support that he has found among Palestinians for his gambit. A new opinion poll is showing that 83 per cent of the Palestinians support the move, despite 78 per cent expressing the view that they will face greater hardships after the U.N. vote.
In the aftermath of the recent Arab revolts, it appeared that a majority of Palestinians wanted to engage in peaceful protests. Nearly two-thirds of Palestinians, according the poll conducted by Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, favoured peaceful protests, while one-third wanted armed struggle to resume. The same poll, which was conducted jointly with Hebrew University, revealed that only 16 per cent of Israelis wanted their country to expand settlement construction. Around 7 per cent favoured Israeli annexation of the West Bank territory, while support for the invasion of Palestinian territory had dropped to a lowly 4 per cent.