The Palestinians are gearing up for their plan to go to the United Nations in September to seek recognition as a state.
No one doubts the Palestinians could win broad support at the UN in a vote to recognize the state of Palestine. In fact, they already have.
Back in 1988, the Palestinian Liberation Organization's chairman, Yasir Arafat proclaimed a Palestinian state. A UN resolution to recognize the move got 104 yes votes. Two countries voted no: Israel and the United States.
But when the Palestinians go to New York in September, they'll be asking for something different, according to veteran politician Hanan Ashrawi, who spoke to reporters in Ramallah on Sunday. What the Palestinian leadership wants in 2011, she said, is recognition as a state with defined borders. The borders the Palestinians have in mind are the pre-1967 lines that divided Israel from the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Arab East Jerusalem.
"We are going to the UN with all options open and we reserve our right to use any means — peaceful and legal and moral and human and responsible — that will guarantee our rights and save them from Israeli unilateralism and illegal measures," Ashrawi said.
Ashrawi said Palestinian officials are hoping to line up more than 130 votes this time around. The US has said it would veto any resolution on Palestinian statehood. But the prospect of voting against Palestinian self-determination as a wave of uprisings sweep through the Arab world is likely something the Obama administration would prefer to avoid.
Ashrawi said the Palestinians are not seeking to embarrass or confront the United States.
"We're telling the Americans, the best thing for you to do, at least if you don't want to vote with us," Ashrawi said, "if you don't want to be seen as on the wrong side of the law, isolated with Israel, blocking the rights of one nation, we're trying to convince them to abstain."
But that's probably wishful thinking on the part of the Palestinians. Congress is threatening to cut off vital US funding to the Palestinian Authority if it goes ahead with its plans. And Israel says the Palestinians are playing with fire by undermining the peace process. Still, some Palestinians I spoke with at the fruit and vegetable market in downtown Ramallah said it's still worth the risk.
One shopper who didn't want to give her name told me she has high hopes for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. "God willing," she said, "he will be successful in winning UN approval for the state of Palestine."
But a mobile phone shop owner named Sultan said he sees the effort as a double-edged sword.
"If the Israelis let things play out at the United Nations," he said, "it could help Palestinians in the long run. But if Israel uses this as a pretext to create chaos in the Palestinian territories, it could take us back decades."
Others, like this fabric store owner, said they're skeptical of what Palestinians could ever achieve in New York.
"This will do nothing for the Palestinian people," the fabric store owner said. "There have been many resolutions in the past and Israel can do whatever it wants. Even if the resolution wins 130 votes, there are really only two countries that matter, and that's America and Israel."
Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi discussed the plan for seeking recognition at the United Nations for a state of Palestine within the pre-1967 borders with Israel. (photo: Matthew Bell)