Middle East
Palestinian protesters back UN membership bid
Peaceful protest at Qalandiya checkpoint could be a preview of upcoming demonstrations in occupied West Bank.
Last Modified: 17 Sep 2011 16:00
Abbas will submit the PLO's request after addressing the General Assembly on Friday [Gregg Carlstrom/Al Jazeera]

Qalandiya Checkpoint, Occupied West Bank — A small protest here on Saturday was perhaps a preview of upcoming popular demonstrations, as the Palestine Liberation Organisation prepares to petition the United Nations for full membership.

About 200 people attended the demonstration at this crossing point between Jerusalem and Ramallah. Many of them were members of "Palestine 194," an organisation which supports the PLO's bid for recognition. The group's name refers to UN resolution 194, which deals with the rights of Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem.

The rally was organised in part by Mustafa Barghouti, a Palestinian activist and politician.

Protesters said the UN bid was necessary after decades of failed talks between Israel and the PLO. "No negotiations while the settlements and the wall continue," one sign read, referring to illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the separation barrier between Israel and the Palestinian territories.

"We demand an independent state with its capital in Jerusalem," said another.

"This is a key point in our struggle to get to our objective, freedom," said Mounara Munir, a woman from Hebron who attended Saturday's protest. "We deserve a state. We deserve to be independent."

A few Palestinians threw rocks at an Israeli army tower after the main protest [Gregg Carlstrom/Al Jazeera]

This was the first demonstration since Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas announced on Friday night that the PLO would ask the Security Council for full membership at the UN. The PLO has called for protests across the occupied West Bank this week, particularly on Wednesday, which they designated a national "day of struggle."

Ibrahim Nawwaja, a student from Ramallah, acknowledged that a "yes" vote at the United Nations would not end the Israeli occupation. But he said the PLO's request for recognition would be a symbolic victory for Palestinians, and an embarrassment for the United States, which is expected to veto the request at the Security Council.

"Maybe we will not have a country at first. But this is something important," he said. "We will know who is with us and who is against us, and it will put the United States in a bad situation."

After the main group of protesters left, a dozen or so young men stayed behind to throw rocks and glass bottles at the Israeli army tower overlooking Qalandiya. Another group gathered tyres near the checkpoint and lit them on fire.

The army did not respond, and the remaining protesters quickly dispersed.

'The last straw'

Earlier in the day, Nabil Shaath, a senior PLO negotiator, offered a few more details on the bid.

At a press conference in Ramallah, Shaath said that Palestinians did not see the UN bid "as an endgame. We believe in the ability of Israel to remake itself and return to negotiations".

Shaath was also critical of recent visits by David Hale and Dennis Ross, the US envoys who have made two trips to the region this month. The two presented a plan to Abbas aimed at averting the PLO's United Nations bid and relaunching negotiations. He described their visits as "useless" in an interview on Friday.

On Saturday, he went further, telling reporters that the visits from Hale and Ross actually convinced Abbas to approach the Security Council for recognition.

"[They] came with a paper that was the last straw that he could take. It seems that it was designed to be rejected," Shaath said.

Shaath also touched on Israel's insistence that the UN bid violates the Oslo Accords, the 1993 agreement which established the Palestinian Authority. Israeli officials often describe the UN bid as a "unilateral move" which could invalidate Oslo.

But Shaath argued that Israel has already breached the Oslo Accords, by constantly expanding its illegal settlements in the West Bank.

"There are no longer Areas A, B and C," he said, referring to the areas of jurisdiction in the Palestinian territories that were created by the Oslo Accords. "Israel has messed that all up."

Abbas is expected to leave for New York on Sunday; he will stop in London for meetings with British officials before continuing to the United States. He will address the UN General Assembly on Friday, and plans to submit the official request for UN membership after his speech.

Al Jazeera
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