RAMALLAH, Occupied West Bank (IPS/GIN) — Thousands of Palestinians gathered throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip Thursday, including representatives of all the major political factions, to celebrate and to show their support for the Palestinian Authority’s bid for upgraded status at the United Nations.
“I’m here in support. We want a state like all the other Arab states,” 28-year-old Ramallah resident Amar Qendah told IPS from Clock Square in downtown Ramallah, which was covered in banners and Palestinian flags in support of the UN bid.
“All of us are together; all the Palestinian political parties are together as one. God willing this will improve our situation,” Qendah said.
In a session that began at 10:30 pm local time Thursday, Palestine succeeded in its bid to become a “non-member observer” at the UN General Assembly. In all 138 states voted in favor of the Palestinian motion, nine states voted against it, and 41 abstained.
“Your support for our endeavor today will give a reason for hope to a people besieged by a racist, colonial occupation. Your support will confirm to our people that they are not alone and their adherence to international law is never going to be a losing proposition,” said Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in a speech that garnered a standing ovation in the General Assembly shortly before the vote took place.
“The General Assembly is called upon today to issue a birth certificate of the reality of the State of Palestine,” Abbas said.
Palestinians have held “permanent observer” status at the UN since 1974. The upgrade will now allow them to participate in General Assembly discussions, and will give them a better chance to be admitted to UN agencies and file claims in the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Palestinian admission to the ICC has seemingly been the most conscientious issue for Israel, which fears that it may face charges for crimes committed against Palestinians living under its ongoing occupation. Israel and the United States – which voted against the Palestinian motion Thursday – have both condemned Palestinian appeals to the UN.
Watching the festivities at Clock Square in Ramallah Thursday, Koaibah Shtayeh from the northern West Bank city of Nablus told IPS that holding Israel accountable in an international court was the biggest reason she supported the PA’s decision to seek upgraded status at the UN.
“We can go after these Israeli leaders who have murdered thousands of Palestinians. So many things will change,” she said optimistically. “This will affect the future (for younger Palestinians). It will give them a different future than the one I had myself.”
The push for upgraded status at the UN was the latest in a string of steps taken by the PA to reach its goal of an independent Palestinian state, made up of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem as the capital.
In September 2011, PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas presented an application for statehood to the UN Security Council. This was eventually blocked after Security Council member states were unable to make a unanimous recommendation.
Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported that thousands of people marched in the southern West Bank city of Hebron Thursday in support of the appealing to the UN for upgraded status. Fatah – the Palestinian political party that forms the majority of the PA – also held its first rally in the Gaza Strip since 2007, when a major rift formed between it and rival party Hamas, which governs Gaza.
Despite these moves towards Palestinian reconciliation, Israeli leaders have made clear that upgraded status at the UN will not alter the present situation. “The decision at the United Nations won’t change anything on the ground. It won’t promote the creation of a Palestinian state, it will distance it,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
Many Palestinians also voiced skepticism that their lives would improve as a result of upgraded UN status.
“We are under the foot of occupation. The international community is still supporting Israel. Israel is a state established through the UN and it’s a state that is not respecting and violating the UN resolutions,” said Fathy Khdeirat, coordinator of the Jordan Valley Solidarity campaign.
The Jordan Valley makes up over 30 percent of the West Bank. It is often referred to as the “Palestinian breadbasket” for its high agricultural potential. But Israel controls over 86 percent of the land and almost all of its abundant resources, and places stringent restrictions on Palestinian communities in the area.
Khdeirat told IPS that living under these difficult conditions most Palestinians in the Jordan Valley were disinterested in the UN bid. “It’s not like the day after going to the United Nations there will be changes. I don’t think that it will change. But if we compare it with keeping silent or accepting the situation, it’s better to tell the world what’s going on here.”