Euphoria sweeping streets, but concerns of Third Intifada simmer
With the fate of the Palestinian bid for recognized statehood in the hands of the United Nations, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is moving to channel his people’s enthusiasm into reality.
“We will continue struggle in the United Nations itself and in the Palestinian streets pushing the Arab world to give them more support to vote for Palestinian independent state,” Ziad Abu Ein, deputy Palestinian minister for prisoner affairs, told The Media Line. “There’s a lot of change. We took this issue from the hands of the United States and gave it to the international community.”
Abbas returned to a hero’s welcome when thousands cheered him outside of his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah where he triumphantly told his people that the Palestinian Spring has begun.
“I went to the United Nations carrying your hopes and your dreams, your aspirations and your sufferings and your vision of the future and your urgent need for an independent Palestinian state,” Abbas said.
Once seen as a bland bureaucrat, the 76-year old leader has now achieved near rock star- status among Palestinians for his historic speech at the UN and asking the Security Council to formally recognize the Palestinian state. He did so by defying appeals by the U.S. and Israel to return to peace talks.
“Mr. President, he was brilliant, he was incredible, he was unbelievable. He was fantastic. I respect him now more than I respected him before,” said Mansoun Manasrah, a radio show host on Ajyal Radio, told The Media Line.
Ibrahim Al-Rifaie, the mayor of the Palestinian village of Anata, was also buoyant.
“I am very enjoy today. I am very happy today. Because I saw him [at the UN] and he is like a lion. Yes. He told the world, to every person, what happened in Palestine, the people of Palestine,” Al-Rifaie said.
Three-story high posters of Abbas lined the Mukata headquarters of the Palestinian Authority as well as many of the buildings in Ramallah. Young supporters carried a photograph of his face aloft on poles, as the crowds chanted his praise.
Israeli authorities have warned that the high spirits of the Palestinians risk devolving into violence should progress toward political gains not bear fruit. While the discontent is similar to 2000 when the violent Second Intifada broke out, the social atmosphere has dramatically changed for the Palestinian street, which is enjoying greater prosperity and still licking mental wounds from the Israeli crackdown that followed.
“[The Israelis] are trying to scare everyone about this and they may even try to escalate matters, but as for the Palestinian people we are not looking forward to this. A chance for a Third Intifada is doubtful because the Palestinians are not looking for any escalation,” Ibrahim Daqqaq told The Media Line as he waited for Abbas to show up.
U.S.-trained Palestinian security forces, in coordination with Israeli security forces, have also been deployed to prevent friction between Palestinian demonstrators and Israelis in the territories.
On Salah al-Din Street, the main thoroughfare in Arab east Jerusalem, Palestinians were more subdued than in the West Bank. Many are unsure what fate awaits them should a Palestinian state arise.
“I am almost 50 years old,” said Jamal, who works for an Israeli telephone company and asked not to be identified by his last name. “Till now I don’t have my own passport. I hope. I am looking for peace. I am living in east Jerusalem and there are 300,000 like me. I need my own passport.”
One elderly Palestinian man, who refused to be named, blasted U.S. President Barack Obama for opposing the Palestinian bid at the UN and threatening to veto it if it came to a vote at the Security Council.
“Obama, I tell him from Jerusalem to go to the hell. We are the Palestinian and we will bring our flag on all Palestinian, just tell him to wait. Jews are nothing. Without the superpower that America gives to them they are nothing,” he said.
Despite the euphoria among the Palestinians, peace talks seem as far away as ever, particularly after Abbas said they would not happen unless Israel halts the building of Jewish homes in the territories.
In Jewish west Jerusalem, the feelings were pessimistic.
“Nothing has changed. What was will be. Nothing will change because no one is willing to compromise. It’s just like in life, without compromise there won’t be any progress in this world,” said Avi Binyamin, a street vendor.
Yehudit Ben Zimra, who works in a jewelry store, said she believed coexistence with the Palestinians would be possible only if they ceased preaching hatred of the Jews to their children.
“We can live together if they will start to tech at school not to hate us and to know that it is good for them and for us to be together and if they realize that we can live together beautifully,” she said.
But others were more intolerant.
“I don’t think that there will ever be peace. Jews and Arabs don’t get along. There won’t be any peace,” said a young man who asked not to be named with cropped hair named Shlomi.
Back in east Jerusalem, Fayek Nashashibi said Jews and Arabs could live together as they have for centuries, but that the “foreigners” and “settlers” who came after 1948 would have to leave Palestine.
“We have been living together from before 1948. We were all living together in the Old City, in Morocco, in Iraq, in Syria and in Egypt. They were with us in Turkey, in Spain. But if the others, the foreigners, who came or the settlers, these people must go back to their countries. But we lived with the other who were here living with us,” said Nashashibi.
And in Ramallah, Reem Ghannam was optimistic the time for a Palestinian state was “very close.”
“We are still opening our hands for peace,” she said. “Be optimistic man, peace will come.”