Palestinians celebrate historic day

Palestinians celebrate historic day


The parties began long before the voting to raise the Palestinians’ status at
the United Nations to non-member observer state.

By late morning in Ramallah’s Yasser Arafat Square, a traditional Palestinian
band had taken to the stage, followed by folk dancers, and then a procession of
scouts and guides marched by, playing the drums.

“We are celebrating because the Palestinians will get observer membership of
the United Nations. This will improve our political situation,” said Ehab
Younis.

“For sure, I’m happy. This is a Palestinian festival. The whole population is
happy.”

Throughout the day, the state-funded ‘Palestine’ television channel carried
special programming focusing on the UN General Assembly vote. Most businesses
and schools closed early to mark the event.

“Today is important for all the world,” 15-year-old Khaloud said, holding up a
sign reading: ‘Palestine deserves membership’.

“We hope Palestine will win.”
President Mahmoud Abbas: “The international community now stands before the
last chance to save the two state solution”
Similar rallies were held across the West Bank, East Jerusalem and even in the
Gaza Strip.

President Mahmoud Abbas made his speech in New York just before 2300 local time
as crowds of people waving flags gathered around large screens carrying the
live feed.

It began with a reference to how the Gaza conflict had increased determination
to come to the UN along with regional changes brought by the Arab spring.

After two years of stalled peace talks with Israel, the upgrade in status was
presented in the context of “the urgent and pressing need to end the Israeli
occupation” and as “a last chance to save the two-state solution”.

Mr Abbas said the endeavour was: “aimed at trying to breathe new life into the
negotiations”.

Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor, then gave his country’s response,
reiterating points made earlier in Jerusalem by Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu.

Direct negotiation
The Israeli diplomat said the UN vote “will not advance the establishment of a
Palestinian state, but push it further away”, that Israel had to be recognised
as a Jewish state and its security arrangements taken into account.

Mr Prosor said peace could only come through direct negotiations between the
two sides, not through a UN resolution.

In the end, 138 out of 193 UN member states voted in favour of the resolution
to upgrade the Palestinians’ status. Nine voted against and 41 abstained,
including the UK. Fireworks erupted in Ramallah with the news.

While Palestinians will see no changes on the ground with immediate effect, the
symbolism is all-important.

There is also hope that access to UN bodies will bring new rights. A successful
application for membership of the International Criminal Court could be used to
accuse Israel of war crimes or make other legal claims against it.

“This is a whole new ball-game now. Israel will be dealing with a member of the
international community, a state called Palestine with rights,” senior PLO
official Hanan Ashrawi told the BBC.

“We will have access to international organisations and agencies and we will
take it from there.”

There had been lobbying by Israel and its strongest ally, the US, to try to
delay the vote or change the text to obtain guarantees that no international
legal action would be taken against Israel.

Explaining why her country voted against the Palestinian initiative, the US
ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, argued that it sought to circumvent peace
talks.

“Today’s unfortunate and counterproductive resolution places further obstacles
in the path to peace,” she said.

Several EU countries had moved to back Mr Abbas, a moderate leader, in an
attempt to revive peace talks and oppose the expansion of Jewish settlements in
the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

There was also a desire to give him a diplomatic boost after the conflict
between Israel and his political rivals, Hamas, who govern Gaza, appeared to
sideline him.

The outcome has been effective in Ramallah. For one night, at least, there are
ordinary Palestinians carrying the president’s picture and proclaiming him
victorious.

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