Global Politics

Palestinians Seeking Public Support for UN Membership

Palestinian leaders are busy trying to line up votes at United Nations headquarters in New York.

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President Mahmoud Abbas says he is going to submit a formal request to the Security Council at the end of the week for full UN membership for the state of Palestine.

Meanwhile, Palestinian officials back home are rallying their public to support the effort.

A small crowd of Palestinians rallied today in support of their president's efforts in New York. The crowd unveiled a giant light blue chair as a symbol of what the Palestinian leadership is after.

"Palestine's right," a sign on the chair declared, "full membership in the United Nations."

Looking on, store owner Hamdi al-Tahreefi said moving beyond the long-dead peace process toward something new is a good step for the Palestinians.

"These talks, they been more than around 20 years and nothing happen on the ground," he said. "We will let the United Nations figure out the problems."

On one hand, the effort is likely to be a non-starter. The United States plans to use its veto in the UN Security Council. But university student Shadiya Harfush said the Palestinian president is still doing the right thing.

"I think the fact that Abbas is in the UN trying to declare a state or get full membership is in itself a very great task," Harfush said. "It is, in itself, something that gives us pride."

Sabri Saidam mingled in the crowd of the Ramallah rally Tuesday. He is an advisor to the Palestinian president. Saidam said this public show of support for Palestinian membership at the UN sends a clear message to the world.

"It is time to end occupation," Saidam said. "The misery of the Palestinian people should not be entertained anymore."

"Democracy and occupation don't go hand in hand, and they ought to be ended, ended in a way that Palestinians seek their freedom and their determination alongside the state of Israel."

But about a mile down the road from the rally, in the Al-Amari refugee camp, some Palestinians said they have mixed feelings about their president's quest for UN membership.

Yusuf al-Hajj, a 48-year-old butcher, said Palestinians deserve a state like everyone else in the world. "We want to be neighbors with Israel," he said. "We don't want any violence."

But al-Hajj said he is disappointed that President Abbas has not talked more about the rights of Palestinian refugees.

"I don't want compensation. I want to be able to return to the village in Israel where my family lived until 1948."

This so-called right of return is a non-starter with Israel, because allowing the descendents of Palestinian refugees to move back to Israel itself would mean the end of the Jewish majority.

Another camp resident, 22-year-old Maram Omar said she dreams about the creation of a Palestinian state. But the Palestinian campaign at the United Nations could undermine what she is really hoping for.

"I prefer the one state solution — the State of Palestine," she said. That state would include Haifa, Jaffa, Jerusalem and "the rest of historical Palestine."

The sentiment helps explain why some Palestinians are reluctant to fully support what the Palestinian leadership is trying to do in New York. That is because UN membership would commit Palestinians to two states for two people.

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    In Ramallah, Palestinians rally in support of President Mahmoud Abbas' bid for membership at the United Nations. (photo: Matthew Bell)

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    Dr. Sabri Saidam - an advisor to the Palestinian president - speaks to a reporter during a rally in Ramallah today in support of the Palestinian bid for UN membership. (photo: Matthew Bell)

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