Middle East Features
Pride, scepticism, scorn as Palestinians mark Abbas' UN bid
By Jan-Uwe Ronneburger Sep 24, 2011, 22:12 GMT
Ramallah/Gaza City - Thousands of ecstatic Palestinians packed central Ramallah's Yasser Arafat square Friday night to cheer as President Mahmoud Abbas formally announced his bid for statehood and UN membership in New York.
The speech before the General Assembly, watched live by more than 10,000 people in the square, generated a festive atmosphere. A huge poster showed Abbas and Arafat together, under the slogan, 'UN 194 Palestinian state,' a reference to the quest to become the 194th member of the United Nations.
As Abbas displayed a copy of the application for UN membership in New York, the crowd cheered and applauded, waving Palestinian flags. Passing cars honked their horns. Celebrants crowded onto rooftops.
'It's clear that we will not immediately become a state,' said Ouf, 34. 'But Abu Mazen (Abbas) only goes as far as his people want him to go, and he is carrying out our dream.' He expresseed anger at Israel, and was certain there would not be peace as long as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in power.
'We however are counting on the people of Israel,' he said.
The mood was peaceful, in contrast to earlier this week, when Israeli flags and photos of US President Barack Obama were set afire.
A woman, Maha, 28, who came with her husband Azumin and their five children to witness the historic moment, agreed with sceptics that with the United States opposed, 'it will be very difficult.'
But she prickled at a question about whether at least her children would live to see an independent Palestinian state.
'Absolutely, I believe I myself will experience that,' she quipped.
In the Gaza Strip, which is administered by the Islamist Hamas movement, Abbas' bitter rival, there were no celebratory street rallies. But dozens congregated in restaurants and coffee shops to watch the live transmission.
Hamas opposes Abbas' bid for UN recognition of a Palestinian state in the West bank and Gaza Strip, since this would imply recognition of Israel, something Hamas has sworn never to accept.
The movement charged that Abbas' remarks were 'full of contradictions.'
'This speech does not achieve the aspirations of the Palestinian people in establishing their state without occupation,' Hamas Gaza spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said in a statement.
He said Hamas believed that implementation of a still-unrealised reconciliation agreement between the Islamist movement and Abbas' Fatah party, and settling internal differences, 'is the only solution to face all the challenges that stand against the Palestinian people aspirations.'
Later Friday, Israel raised its alert along its border with the Sinai peninsula, following 'concrete' intelligence that Hamas was preparing to launch an attack in the area, an Israeli military spokeswoman said Friday night.
Israeli military officials said the possible attacks could be an attempt by Hamas to sabotage the UN bid.
In Ramallah, the legacy of Arafat, the militant Palestine Liberation Organization leader whose death in 2004 raised hopes for a peace settlement, was clear in more than the square named after him.
Someone appeared dressed up like Arafat, and caused a stir as he moved through the crowd, looking amazingly like the unshaven man who dominated Mideast dynamics for decades. The actor triggered a scuffle between two young men, who were fighting to be the first to be photographed next to the double.