Palestinians Rally in Support of Statehood

A Palestinian boy holds a flag as he watches a rally in the West Bank city of Ramallah in support of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' bid for statehood recognition in the United Nations, September 21, 2011. (REUTERS/Darren Whiteside)

Palestinians Rally in Support of Statehood

Thousands gather in Ramallah and Nablus in a show of support for Mahmoud Abbas' bid for statehood at the UN.

Tens of thousands of people have gathered in Ramallah and Nablus in the occupied West Bank in a show of support for a Palestinian bid to secure full membership at the United Nations.

The rallies came hours ahead of a much-awaited speech by the US President Barack Obama on the issue that has set the Palestinians on a collision course with Israel and its allies.

Obama has vowed to veto the Palestinian bid, backing Israel's view that direct talks offer the only route to peace.

Al Jazeera's Cal Perry, reporting from Ramallah, said people rallying in Ramallah on Wednesday were aware of the diplomatic talks taking place in New York.

Thousands marched into Arafat Square in Ramallah and schools and some businesses were shut as people came out in support of the bid for Palestinian statehood, he said.

In Nablus, some rallyists said it was a big day for Obama. "Lets hope he does not let us down," they said.

Obama is to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in an effort to defuse the situation after his speech.

US to veto bid

Recognising that Abbas seems intent to proceed, Obama is expected to privately ask the Palestinian leader to essentially drop the move for statehood recognition after Abbas delivers a formal letter of intent to the UN on Friday, after his address to the UN General Assembly.

"The president will say, frankly, the same thing in private that he'll say in public, which is that we do not believe that this is the best course of action for achieving Palestinian aspirations," said the White House deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes.

Obama's stand has surprised the Palestinians, with the Palestinian foreign minister saying he was "amazed" by the US efforts to persuade other countries not to support the UN bid.

"They have used different forms of pressure, threats, and many others, sending letters, sending ambassadors, etcetera, etcetera... Amazing," Riyad al-Maliki told Al Jazeera.

Talking to Al Jazeera's Gregg Carlstrom, senior Palestinian activist Mustafa Barghouti, also expressed his surprise over the US opposition.

"I think it is very strange that Obama will veto a bid for Palestinian statehood, when a year ago at the UN General Assembly he supported the idea," he said.

"Palestinian statehood will create a new political situation where Israeli will be occupying another country."

US hopes

The Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) under Abbas is pressing for statehood after talks with Israel led to nowhere.

The Obama administration say that only direct peace negotiations, not a UN vote, would allow the Palestinians to achieve the benefits of statehood.

The new approach being considered would see the "quartet" of the peace mediators, including the US, UN, European Union and Russia - issue a statement addressing both Palestinian and Israeli concerns and setting a timetable for a return to the long-stalled peace talks, officials close to the diplomatic talks said.

The statement would also endorse the idea of "two states for two peoples, Jewish and Palestinian", according to the AP news agency.

The White House publicly appeared to hold out slight hope that enough progress could be made to stop Abbas from formally requesting statehood recognition.

"President Abbas has indicated his determination to go to the Security Council, so we take him at his word on that," Rhodes said.

The simmering situation is far from the scenario Obama envisioned when he spoke at the UN one year ago.

"We should reach for what's best within ourselves," Obama said last September in pushing for negotiated agreement on a sovereign Palestinian state. "If we do, when we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations."

Should the Palestinian bid fail, Abbas could ask for a vote of the General Assembly for an enhanced observer status, which is enjoyed by others such as the Vatican, in which case no veto would be possible.

While UN recognition would have largely a symbolic value, the Palestinians argue that it would strengthen their hands in peace talks with Israel, especially on the final issues that divide them.

These are the precise location of the border, the final status of Jerusalem, the right of return of Palestinian refugees, water, and security.

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