Palestinian flag raised at UN for first time
Flag hoisted in New York in a historic step, despite prior condemnation from Israel and the US.
The Palestinian flag has for the first time been raised at the United Nations following an address delivered by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to the UN General Assembly.
The flag was raised in the rose garden at 1:00pm local time (6:00pm GMT) on Wednesday as a large crowd of diplomats and reporters watched on.
Speaking to the crowd, Abbas dedicated the ceremony to “the martyrs, the prisoners and the wounded, and to those who gave their lives while trying to raise this flag”.
Hundreds of Palestinians assembled in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah, where they watched the flag-raising on a large screen set up in Yasser Arafat Square.
“The mood is festive,” reported Al Jazeera’s Imtiaz Tyab, adding that “families sang along to nationalistic songs and waved the Palestinian flag”.
Having been strongly criticised by Israel, the move was also opposed by the United States.
In an op-ed published at the Huffington Post, Abbas called the flag-raising a “moment of hope” and called on the international community to recognise “the independence of the state of Palestine, peacefully resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict”.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Palestine Liberation Organisation Central Council member Mustafa Barghouti described the move as “an important symbolic step”.
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“In essence, it will honour the many Palestinians who were killed by Israel while trying to raise that flag in the occupied Palestinian territories,” he said earlier in the day.
The General Assembly approved the resolution to raise the flag with an overwhelming majority voting in favour of it on September 10.
The motion passed with 119 votes in favour, while 45 countries abstained and eight voted against, among them Israel, the US and Australia.
But Barghouti also called on the Palestinian leadership to take several steps in order to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.
Barghouti said the PA should “declare the end of negotiations with Israel because the negotiations have dragged on forever”, arguing that Israel has used the peace process as a smokescreen to expand its settlements in the occupied territory in order to “end the idea of a Palestinian state”.
After cancelling the Oslo Accords and terminating security cooperation with the Israeli military, the PLO member said that the Palestinian leadership should “support popular resistance” and “encourage a world embargo against Israel”.
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In 2012, the UNGA recognised Palestine as a “non-member observer state”, a position also held by the Vatican. That followed a failed push for full member state status a year earlier.
Tholfikar Swairjo, the Gaza-based spokesman of the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, said that “anything that shows the world that we exist and that we’re present” is a “positive development”.
But focusing solely on using only diplomatic tools to achieve statehood “will result only in more ink on paper”, Swairjo told Al Jazeera. “The struggle for a democratic, independent and secular Palestine will continue on the ground against the Zionist project”.
Senior Hamas leader Ghazi al-Hamad said the flag-raising is “a positive step”, but added that “it’s not enough”.
The Palestinian leadership in the West Bank has focused too much on “symbolic acts”, Hamad told Al Jazeera, adding that only with unity between the West Bank and Gaza can Palestinians “confront the Israeli occupation and establish an independent Palestinian state”.
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Hamas also called for Abbas to call off all agreements with Israel during his UNGA speech on Wednesday.
Hamad said that Palestinians were in a “dire situation” as Israeli settlements continue to rapidly expand and tensions soar at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in East Jerusalem, where clashes between Palestinian worshippers and Israeli forces have occurred on a near-daily basis in recent weeks.
Following the UNGA’s resolution to raise the flag earlier this month, Israel’s permanent representative to the UN, Ron Prosor, condemned the move as “a blatant attempt to hijack the UN”, calling for the resumption of direct negotiations between the PA and Israel.
– With reporting by Ali Younes and Patrick Strickland