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Palestinians launch blitz for recognition

Protests aimed at influencing United Nations

Palestinians rallied outside a United Nations building yesterday in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Palestinians rallied outside a United Nations building yesterday in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images)
By Mohammed Daraghmeh
Associated Press / September 9, 2011

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RAMALLAH, West Bank - The Palestinians launched a campaign yesterday to rally support for UN recognition as an independent state, planning demonstrations in the Palestinian territories and worldwide before asking the world body to accept them as a full member state later this month.

The public relations blitz helps set up a diplomatic showdown at the United Nations, where Israel and the United States are leading opposition to the bid, and adds to concerns in Israel that mass demonstrations could turn violent.

The US administration said for the first time yesterday that it would veto any Security Council resolution to recognize Palestinian statehood.

With peace talks deadlocked for nearly three years, the Palestinians plan to ask the United Nations to recognize their independence in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem - areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.

Although the vote will not change the situation on the ground, the Palestinians believe a strong international endorsement will isolate Israel and boost their position in future negotiations. Israel opposes a full withdrawal to its 1967 lines that mark the West Bank’s boundaries.

At yesterday’s ceremony, some 100 Palestinian officials and activists briefly gathered at the UN offices in Ramallah, where they spelled out their plans in an informal letter addressed to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

“We urge you to add your moral voice in support of the Palestinian people enjoying a life of freedom and dignity, like the rest of the people of the world,’’ the letter says.

The letter was delivered by Latifa Abu Hmeid, a 70-year-old woman who lost one son in fighting with Israel and has seven other sons in Israeli prisons because of alleged militant activities. Officials said Abu Hmeid was selected to deliver the document because her personal story reflects the plight of the Palestinians.

The event was organized by the Palestine Liberation Organization, the umbrella group that is dominated by President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement. The Palestinians have yet to say when they would submit their formal request to the United Nations and what form it would take.

Campaign organizer Ahmed Assaf, a Fatah spokesman, said that Palestinians would begin staging small protests in the West Bank today.

The program will be capped by mass demonstrations throughout the area on Sept. 21, when the UN General Assembly opens, and Sept. 23, when Abbas delivers his speech seeking recognition as the 194th member of the world body.

“Today is the official launch of our campaign: Palestine State 194,’’ Assaf said. “We picked the UN because the UN represents political legitimacy for the Palestinians.’’

Despite the high-profile campaign, key questions remain. The Palestinians have been vague on whether they will seek membership from the Security Council or the General Assembly.

The 15-member council is the most powerful body at the United Nations. Its decisions are legally binding and its backing is necessary for full membership. The United States, however, as one of five permanent members of the council, would veto any Palestinian request, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said yesterday, after months of administration hinting in that direction.

Instead, the Palestinians could turn to the larger General Assembly, which is dominated by pro-Palestinian developing nations, for admission as a “nonmember state.’’ Approval is guaranteed, but the victory would be largely symbolic, though the Palestinians could gain admission to certain UN bodies, including the International Criminal Court, that they could potentially use as a launching pad for action against Israel.

The United States and Israel have vociferously urged the Palestinians to drop their bid and resume negotiations, which broke down a year ago over Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The Palestinians say they will not resume talks until Israel halts settlement construction and endorses the 1967 lines as the basis of a peace settlement. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has said his country must retain parts of the West Bank, and he opposes any pullout from East Jerusalem, home to sensitive religious sites.

The White House sent two senior envoys to the region this week in hopes of persuading the Palestinians to change their minds, but Palestinian officials say the talks made no headway.

The officials said international Middle East envoy Tony Blair was now trying to find an acceptable formula to get peace talks going again. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were discussing a sensitive diplomatic matter.

Although the Palestinians say their campaign will be peaceful, Israeli military officials warn that mass demonstrations in the West Bank could turn violent.

In comments published yesterday, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Prosor, said he was lobbying his counterparts to oppose the Palestinian bid.

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