Thousands of jubilant Palestinians thronged around outdoor screens in town squares across the West Bank on Friday to see their president submit his historic request for recognition of a state of Palestine to the United Nations.
In Ramallah, a flag-waving, whistling crowd packed into the downtown area to show its support for President Mahmoud Abbas, who had come under intense pressure from the U.S. and others to withdraw the application at the last minute.
“I am with the president,” said Muayad Taha, a 36-year-old physician, who brought his two children, ages 7 and 10, to witness the moment. “After the failure of all other methods (to win independence) we reached a stage of desperation. This is a good attempt to put the Palestinian cause and the Palestinian people on the map. Everyone is here to stand behind the leadership.”
The joy over Abbas’ move was marred by violence just hours earlier. Near the West Bank village of Qusra, Israeli soldiers shot dead a Palestinian man during rock-throwing clashes between the villagers and Israeli settlers, according to witnesses and military accounts.
Earlier Friday, Palestinians supporting the recognition bid clashed with Israeli soldiers in three West Bank locations.
At Qalandiya, a major Israeli checkpoint between the West Bank and Jerusalem, Israeli troops fired tear gas to disperse Palestinian stone-throwers. The confrontations lasted several hours, and by late afternoon, and medics said some 70 Palestinians had been injured by rubber-coated steel pellets or suffered tear gas inhalation.
In the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, demonstrators carried a chair painted in the U.N.’s signature blue to symbolize the quest for recognition. They burned Israeli flags and posters of President Barack Obama, and threw stones before being enveloped by tear gas fired by Israeli troops. Clashes were also reported in the nearby village of Bilin.
Abbas has called for peaceful marches in support of his bid to win U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem — territories Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast War.
In the West Bank, outdoor screens were set up in town squares for residents to watch Abbas’ speech together. A popular song about the recognition bid, with the verse “Announce it, my people, announce it, the state of Palestine, announce it,” blasted from car stereos. Motorists honking horns drove through the streets.
Full U.N. membership can only be bestowed by the U.N. Security Council, where Abbas’ request will almost certainly be derailed — either by a failure to win the needed nine votes in the 15-member body or by a U.S. veto if the necessary majority is obtained.
The Palestinians say they are seeking full U.N. membership to underscore their right to statehood, but have left open the option of a lesser alternative — a non-member observer state. Such a status would be granted by the General Assembly, where the Palestinians enjoy broad support.
Siding with Israel, Obama has said a Palestinian state can only be established as a result of negotiations, and that there is no short-cut to independence.
Abbas has said negotiations remain his preference, but that he will not resume talks — frozen since 2008 — unless Israel agrees to the pre-1967 frontier as a baseline and freezes all settlement construction on occupied land. The Palestinian demands are widely backed by the international community, including the U.S., but Obama has been unable to persuade Israel’s hardline prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to agree to them.
Netanyahu says he wants to negotiate without preconditions and accuses the Palestinians of missing an opportunity for peace. Abbas says settlement expansion pre-empts the outcome of negotiations
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