Israel

Palestinians Eager For Statehood, But Doubt UN Can Solve Their Problems

In the towns of the West Bank, Palestinian residents are cautiously optimistic about negotiations at the UN, which could recognize Palestine as an independent state. But even if the vote does go their way, will things actually change? “Will the Israelis l

(gregor.schlatte)
(gregor.schlatte)
Serge Dumont

RAMALLAH – "Do you want a flag?" young street vendors ask passersby. The campaign for independent statehood is in full swing in Ramallah and in other big Palestinian cities of the West Bank. At the crossroads, teams of T-shirt wearing youth distribute pennants and stickers to drivers. In various squares, giant boards claim this is "a historic moment" for the country. Palestine, the signs optimistically suggest, "is finally going to be recognized internationally."

The campaign symbol is a blue velvet armchair on the back of which the name "Palestine" has been embroidered in silver letters. Activists carry it around from one meeting to another, hoping it will raise public awareness about the current state of things. "Independence is within our reach," declares Hussein Nusseibeh, one of the leaders of the street protests. "According to the polls, 92% of Palestinians think our independence request to the UN will succeed. People understand that the Palestinian Authority (PA) is about to acquire a new position."

Upon meeting people, however, we understand fast enough that Palestinians don't really know what's going on in New York. Nor do they expect a radical change in their lifestyle.

In Kalkilyah, a small agricultural town located 500 meters away from Israel, but on the wrong side of the separation barrier, farmers who are forced to go through various Israeli military checkpoints to access their plantations don't feel particularly enthusiastic.

"Mahmud Abbas tells us that Palestine entering the UN is a step towards complete independence. But after the vote, will the Israelis leave our territory?" asks Abu Baher, a farmer who "doesn't believe in the end of the occupation." Baher points towards the settlement of Alfei Menashe. "Look over there," he says. "While those gentlemen in the government chatter at the UN, buildings are appearing all over the place. If the Jews are settling down, they're not going to move away any time soon."

In the souk of Kalkilyah where Hamas has a strong hold, many complain also about the increase in the cost of living, about the persistent unemployment and the outrageous price of real estate. "It won't get better if we enter the UN," says a storekeeper. "This story, it's just smoke and mirrors to help Fatah win the next legislative elections."

Hussein Al Sheikh, a Fatah leader who was also one of the leaders of the second intifada in the West Bank, counters that the UN vote is just a start -- and will help reignite the peace process, and spur economic development. "No one said everything will suddenly be fine in a few hours," he says.

Intifada or diplomacy?

Another Fatah official insists Israel should thank them for their maneuverings in the UN. "The choice was a simple one," says the man. "The fact that negotiations with Israel were frozen left us with two choices: either we were to launch a new bloody intifada to make things happen or we were to try for a peaceful approach at the UN. We chose the second option."

In the suburb of Nablus, the small village of Kusra has become a favorite target of young extremist Israeli settlers who often raid the place to burn cars, sack farms and desecrate mosques. For the people living there, the ongoing process at the UN seems unreal. "All this far away chit-chat is going to last for weeks, even for months, but we, the people, are attacked every day," says the muktar (village chief). "Here, just as anywhere else, there is definitely a consensus when it comes to encouraging the the initiative at the UN. But if in the end we do not get concrete solutions out of it, people will feel like they were tricked. Tempers will flare for sure. "

About 40 miles south, at the entrance of the Casbah in Hebron, the small flag factory run by Abu Ismail has been working at full capacity for nearly two months. While listening to the calls to prayer from the neighboring mosque, four women wearing hijab are sewing together the Palestinian colors under a weak neon light. On the wall is a faded picture of Yasser Arafat. Just next to it is one of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the Hamas spiritual leader who was killed by an Israeli rocket on March, 22, 2004.

"Look at those flags, they're all hand stitched," says the storekeeper. "We sell them everywhere, even in Israel." Leaning over the tables, the female workers don't raise their heads. They also refuse to answer questions about Palestine's possible entrance in the UN.

"Here, everyone wants the independence of Palestine, but we're afraid to believe in it," says Ismail. "A year ago, Barack Obama himself promised that the State of Palestine would be proclaimed in September 2011. Yet, it was all forgotten. That's why we remain so cautious. We are afraid of being disappointed."

Read the original article in French

Photo - gregor.schlatte

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