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Mahmoud Abbas
Photo: AFP
PA eyes 'protest blitz' ahead of September
After announcing formal date for UN bid for statehood, Palestinians aim to see masses take to streets in non-violence support of their cause

The Palestinian preparations for September's UN bid for statehood are gathering speed: On Saturday, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki announced that Palestinians will present their application for United Nations membership on September 20 – the first day of the UN General Assembly's 66th session.

 

Several days of world leaders' speeches are expected to follow, and the Palestinians hope to schedule President Mahmoud Abbas' speech for the following Friday, September 23.

 

 

Choosing Friday for Abbas' speech is not coincidental: Friday is the day in which Arabs traditionally hold mass prayers, and since the onset of the Arab spring, it is the day in which masses across the Arab world take to the streets to protest against their regimes.

 

The Palestinians hope to draw out the same masses in capital cities not only in the Arab world, but in the West as well, in support of their bid for a Palestinian state.

 

They hope that Cairo's Tahrir Square – the symbol of the Egyptian revolution – will turn into "Palestine Square" for a day. To achieve these goals, the PLO is set to launch a worldwide campaign to gather support for the Palestinian cause.

 

"If we look at it from a certain angle, you Israelis brought September upon yourselves," a Palestinian official said.

 

"If (former diplomat) Shlomo Ben-Ami was the Israeli foreign minister, it would have been much more difficult for us to reach our goals for September," he explained, hinting that having Avigdor Lieberman as Israel's foreign minister has made it easier for the Palestinians to gather support around the world.

 

Too tall a tree?

Recent delays in the application for UN recognition have triggered rumors last week that the Palestinians intend to back down on the bid, but chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat was quick to deny these reports.

 

Backing Erekat's statements, the senior Palestinian official said there's no going back on the decision to apply to the UN for recognition.

 

"When it comes to September, we have reached a point of no return," he said. "Even if negotiations with Israel suddenly begin, we cannot retreat from turning to the UN."

 

According to the official, the cause for the delay was an internal argument over which body should the Palestinians turn to first – the UN Security Council or the General Assembly.

 

The Security Council has the power to enforce the decision – unless the US vetos the bid; the Palestinians may have wider support within the General Assembly, but its decisions are declarative only.


PLO Executive Committee (Archives: AP)

 

Evidently the Palestinians decided to opt for the former, mainly because Lebanon will be presiding over the Security Council in September. While it does not guarantee anything, having a friendly country presiding makes for a better starting point.

 

Abbas is expected to travel to Lebanon in the coming days, and the events of September are set to be at the top of the agenda for the trip.

 

'This won't be a repeat of 2000's riots'

Meanwhile, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad announced his support for the UN bid, though he also expressed concern over the move, following Washington's hints that it may halt its financial aid to the PA should it pursue the move – which the US opposes.

 

"Fayyad is more conservative on the matter, but it doesn't mean that he's against it," the official said. "In fact, he eventually declared that the American money won't buy Palestinian independence."

 

Palestinian security forces have also been preparing for September, and the looming possibility of protests turning into violent riots.

 

While the PA encourages Palestinians to take part in rallies, the Palestinian police plan to surround the cities, so to prevent protest marches from reaching IDF barriers and the settlements.

 

Officially, the PA wants to avoid giving Israel any excuse to engage with the demonstrators, but behind the scenes, Palestinian officials have voiced concerns that such riots might spiral into a third intifada, which would destroy everything they managed to build over the past decade.

 

"What happened in 2000 won't happen again," a Palestinian security source told Ynet. "It goes against the Palestinian interest. We have turned a leaf and progressed to the next stage."

 

 

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