Palestinian Reaction To UN Proceedings

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LISA MULLINS: Palestinians in the West Bank celebrated events at the United Nations. Thousands of them watched Mahmoud Abbas' speech on giant outdoor screens, in town squares across the territory. The World's Middle East correspondent, Matthew Bell, was at one such event in Ramallah. Who turned out for it, Matthew?

MATTHEW BELL: Well, it was a big crowd, Lisa. The people started streaming into Clock Square in Ramallah late in the afternoon. There were several thousand people there, like you said. A big screen where the speech was shown. It was a festive atmosphere. There were families, vendors selling food. There was music, dancing. A couple of speeches, but mostly people were there to listen to Mahmoud Abbas. And there was a real sense that this might be an historic day for Palestinians. I talked to Mustafa Barghouti, who's a Palestinian legislator about this, and here's what he had to say.

MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: What you see today is the rebirth of hope. We didn't have hope. All these negotiations, they were useless. And with the passage of negotiations every day, things were getting worse. More settlements, more expansion, more land appropriation. Now there is a chance for a change. And people are getting hopeful.

BELL: Again there, Lisa, you heard that message of hope. And there's sort of uncertainty about where this is all heading. However, there is a real sense at least in Ramallah today, I really felt it, a real sense of an accomplishment already.

MULLINS: An accomplishment which is why this particular date, September 23, 2011, is the one that's on so many people's lips there, despite what happens with a vote of Palestinian membership in the UN or not. I mean, this is the day.

BELL: Yes, it was the day. It was the day for Mahmoud Abbas. Here is a 70-something year old politician who Palestinians have known for decades. He seemed to be giving every point that Palestinians talk about, when they talk about how much they despise the Israeli occupation. He talked about settlements, he talked about frustration with the peace process, he talked about Palestinian refugees, he talked about prisoners in Israeli jails. He seems to be a politician with a consciousness of his legacy here.

MULLINS: But how about the present, instead of in the future, and thinking about his legacy? Because we also know he spoke about the rule of law, strengthening the role of women as well. Has he made any progress, has he done anything about those things?

BELL: He does like to talk about institution building and state building as well. He made a point of saying since negotiations have gone south over the last couple of years, he said that the Palestinian Authority has worked hard to build the economy, to build up education, to build up the institutions that would be needed for the state of Palestine, when it comes into being, to survive and to thrive. Another real sense here, Lisa, when I talked to people today, was real frustration, not just with Israel, but with the United States. And with those 18 years of negotiations with the United States, that Palestinians say really haven't led anywhere. There's also great frustrations with President Obama himself. Another person I talked to today is Javier Abouid [sp]. He's a Palestinian negotiator. Here's what he had to say.

JAVIER ABOUID: One of the banners you have now here in the square says in 2010, President Obama promised Palestinians a state. In 2011, President Obama promised Palestinians a veto. And today, what you have all over there, not only in Palestine, are reactions of a lot of anger. Because we see that the role of President Obama, unfortunately, has switched from what we thought was going to be an honest broker, to basically just continue the historic US policy of being biased only on one side.

BELL: So you hear there the frustration with President Obama himself. And Palestinians also have a sense that when they heard the President speak the other day, and gave his support for the revolutionary movements in the so-called Arab Spring, they said wait a minute, where's your support for us? We're doing the same thing, trying to establish independence, trying to get a state of our own.

MULLINS: All right, The World's Matthew Bell speaking to us from Ramallah, in the West Bank. Thanks for the update.

BELL: Good to talk with you, Lisa.