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Palestinians see U.N. gambit as step toward reconciliation

Many believe Gaza fight between Hamas and Israel laid the groundwork for victory

by Diana Atallah, The Media Line

November 30, 2012 | 9:20 am

Celebrations West Bank city of Ramallah on Nov. 29. Photo by Marko Djurica/Reuters

Celebrations West Bank city of Ramallah on Nov. 29. Photo by Marko Djurica/Reuters

[Ramallah] – Palestinians took to the streets of Ramallah on Thursday night and into the early hours of Friday morning to celebrate the UN General Assembly vote bestowing non-member status to “Palestine.” Celebrants expressed hope that their newfound recognition at the United Nations is a step closer to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and many expressed belief that this diplomatic success was empowered by the recent military confrontation in the Gaza Strip.

In Ramallah’s Yassir Arafat Square, a demonstrator held a sign that read, “From one victory to another; from Gaza to the UN” while whistles, shouts of “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great), fireworks, and gunfire could be heard above the clamor as Palestinians celebrated at midnight when the General Assembly granted Palestine non-member status. Cars paraded and honked their horns while others chanted slogans in support of Palestinian Authority President Abbas. Despite the excitement, officials noted that the turnout in Ramallah was less than it was for a similar gathering last year when the Palestinians were seeking full UN-membership.

The final tally was 138 states voting “yes” while 9 said “no” and 41 abstained.

Those gathered in the square had watched Abbas deliver his speech in New York and became louder and more boisterous, waving Fatah flags and waving their traditional head coverings as the vote count rose, ultimately to a super-majority.  

Wasilah Shihab, a PA employee, told The Media Line that the Palestinians brought their cause back to the world‘s attention. “We want to have a seat in the UN just like any other country in the world,” he said.

Participants in the square recited the famous song made popular last year, that urges,  “Oh my people, declare the state of Palestine.” On Facebook, Palestinians shared the phrase, “The State of Palestine,” saying it will replace “Palestinian territories” and the “Palestinian Authority.”

Hani Al-Masri, head of Masarat, a Ramallah think-tank, told The Media Line that the importance of the step will be diminished if the Palestinians go back to the negotiating table. “When Palestinians don’t pose a threat to Israel, Israel will not give them anything,” he said, adding that the Palestinians “should seek a different approach after the negotiations track has proved unfruitful.” However, Al- Masri expects the PA will return to negotiations as Abbas recently said it would after the UN vote.

But according the Tayseer Khaled, A PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) Executive Committee member, the ball is now in Israel’s court. “Even when some PLO members think of going back to negotiations, the leadership bears in mind Palestinian public opinion, and Palestinians will not accept going back to futile negotiations. We want serious negotiations,” he stressed to The Media Line adding that decisions about joining international organizations and moving forward with reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas will be put on the agenda of the leadership.

In his speech Abbas promised that the Palestinians will act with, “positivity and responsibility.” Analysts believe that this expression might indicate that officials are not keen on filing charges against Israel and its citizens in the International Criminal Court as its leaders fear.

Khaled warned that the Palestinians will also re-evaluate diplomatic relations with the nations that abstained and especially with those who voted against the resolution.

Hamas welcomed Abbas’ effort at the UN, albeit is a somewhat tempered fashion. Nasser Al-Din Al-Shaer, a former deputy prime minister in Ismail Haniyya’s government in the Gaza Strip stood next to Fatah officials on the podium on Thursday. “We have the right to have representation of our own…We are not attacking anyone,” he told the crowd.

Last week, a cease-fire brokered by Egypt was signed between Hamas in Gaza and Israel after eight-days of fighting that left 170 Palestinians, and six Israelis dead, making the Islamist group more powerful from the Palestinian perspective.

The popularity of Fatah and  the PLO has been diminishing during the past few years, while Hamas has gained political currency.

Analysts believe that the latest Gaza warfare has had an impact in Hamas’ support of the bid, “Hamas speaks from a position of power, and it aims to gain international recognition so they can lead or be a part of the leadership,” Al Masri told The Media Line.

Al-Masri thinks that the events in Gaza led some states to at least change their position from denial to abstention. “They don’t want the moderate political camp to collapse,” said Al-Masri.

At the same time, Al-Masri added that although there is competition between the PA and Hamas’s approaches, ”In some respect, Hamas and Fatah’s popularity are not inversely proportional, and in light of recent events, the popularity of both sides has risen which may lead to a resolution in which they both unite their efforts towards establishing a sovereign Palestinian state.”

At Arafat square, meanwhile, Amna Ali opined that there are two programs among the Palestinians, “The political one and the militant one; whichever can present something to the Palestinians, we welcome it.”

The next few months will determine the fate of the Palestinian reconciliation.  If the PA returns to negotiations it will be difficult for Hamas to return to the fold.  Hamas'may feel empowered after recent events in Gaza; leading them further away from making concessions.

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