|Israel fears that masses of Palestinians could attempt to break down border fences in September [EPA]|
Palestinian officials have said they will begin mass marches against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank on September 20, the eve of a largely symbolic UN vote expected to recognise their independence.
Yasser Abed Rabbo, a Palestinian official, said leaders hope to attract millions of people, and the protest will be the first of a prolonged effort.
He said the campaign would be called “Palestine 194” because the Palestinians hope to become the 194th member of the UN.
“The appeal to the UN is a battle for all Palestinians, and in order to succeed, it needs millions to pour into streets,” Abed Rabbo said.
With peace talks stalled, the Palestinians have decided to ask the UN to endorse their independence, and plan to ask the Security Council – whose decisions are legally binding – for approval as a full member of the world body.
US and Israeli opposition
The US opposes the Palestinian initiative and has signalled it will use its veto power in the council to defeat the measure.
That would force the Palestinians to turn to the much larger general assembly, where they will likely receive more than the two-thirds majority that they need.
While a vote there would be symbolic, the Palestinians believe any international endorsement will isolate Israel and improve their position if negotiations resume.
Israeli-Palestinian talks are stalled with the Palestinians refusing to resume negotiations unless Israel halts settlement construction in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem – claimed by the Palestinians as capital of a future state.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu opposes the UN move and says all issues, including settlements and the borders of a future Palestinian state, must be solved through negotiations.
US mediators have been unable to find a formula to restart talks.
Fears of unrest
Abed Rabbo said all Palestinian demonstrations would be non-violent, but Israeli security officials have repeatedly expressed concern that mass unrest could quickly turn violent and have appealed to the Palestinians to drop their UN initiative.
Lieutenant General Benny Gantz, Israel’s military chief, warned a parliamentary committee this week that “there is potential for a confrontation in September”.
He said the military expects “many thousands of people to conduct a quiet and nonviolent protest” that would move toward Israeli settlements or Israel proper.
“The military will not be able to place the settlements at risk in such cases,” Gantz was quoted as saying.
Abed Rabbo said on Monday that Netanyahu had scuttled a secret meeting last week meant to head off the looming diplomatic showdown.
He said Israeli President Shimon Peres called his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, and asked to meet, promising to bring some creative ideas for defusing the crisis.
Abed Rabbo said Abbas travelled to neighbouring Jordan for the meeting last Thursday, but at the last minute, Peres called to cancel, saying that Netanyahu opposed his ideas.
Two Palestinians were shot dead overnight by Israeli soldiers in the Qalandia refugee camp in the West Bank, Palestinian medics and security officials said on Monday.
Moatassem Adwan, 22, and Ali Khalifa, 23, were killed by soldiers as they carried out arrests in the camp on the road from Ramallah to Jerusalem.
An official from the Fatah movement told the AFP news agency that Israeli troops entered the camp at around 3:30am (0030 GMT) and arrested one youth before clashes broke out, with young men throwing stones at soldiers.
The soldiers then opened fire on the stone-throwers, killing two, the official said.
An Israeli military spokeswoman confirmed clashes between Palestinians and Israeli troops carrying out an arrest operation in Qalandia refugee camp and said five soldiers were injured in the confrontations.
Hours after the deaths, thousands of mourners packed into Qalandia for the funerals of the two men.