Palestinian leader wants rallies to back UN bid

AP News
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Posted: Jul 27, 2011 2:29 PM
Palestinian leader wants rallies to back UN bid

Invoking the Arab Spring, the Palestinian president on Wednesday urged his people to take to the streets for massive rallies in support of his government's bid to get the U.N. to recognize an independent Palestinian state.

The call by President Mahmoud Abbas for peaceful, "popular resistance" throughout the West Bank was likely to fuel Israeli concerns that the U.N. vote in September and any large demonstrations could spark a new round of violence.

In a sign of the worries, Israel announced Wednesday that it has begun work on a stronger fence to fortify the frontier between the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights and Syria. That was one of several areas on Israel's borders where Israeli forces caught by surprise used deadly force in recent months to quell pro-Palestinian protests inspired by the revolts upending the Arab world.

"All of us are talking about resistance and it must be every day," Abbas told a group of Palestinian politicians. "We are led by the protests of the Arab Spring, which we all say should be 'peaceful, peaceful,'" he said in an echo of the chant shouted by demonstrators across the Arab world.

"Make no mistake, we will reach what we desire without intervention from anybody," he said.

With peace talks stalled since 2008, the Palestinians have said they will instead ask the U.N. to recognize their state in September. Israel and the United States strongly oppose the move, saying Palestinian statehood should only be achieved through negotiations.

Abbas' determination to go to the U.N., along with his call to emulate protests in neighboring Arab countries, indicated that he was preparing for a confrontation with Israel and the U.S.

The vote would be largely symbolic, but the Palestinians believe it would send a powerful message to Israel and boost their position in future negotiations.

Both Israeli and Palestinian leaders have said they have no desire to see violence erupt in September. But Israeli military officials fear that street protests could inadvertently spin out of control and spark new violence.

Last week, an imprisoned Palestinian militant leader Marwan Barghouti also called for "millions" of people to take to the streets in nonviolent marches.

Israeli military officials say that troops have been training for months for September and that they are prepared for "all scenarios." The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they are discussing secret preparations, have refused to elaborate on troop levels or special tactics they may use.

The military was caught by surprise when hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists in Syria burst through a fence and into the Golan Heights in May, with some managing to enter deep inside Israel before they were caught. Protesters also stormed the fence the following month. Several dozen protesters were killed in clashes with Israeli troops.

The crowds were protesting to commemorate the uprooting of hundreds of thousands of Arabs during the war surrounding Israel's 1948 creation, an event Palestinians refer to as the nakba, or catastrophe.

On Wednesday, Israeli military officials announced that the army is fortifying the fence running along its northern frontier with Syria in an effort to prevent a repeat of the deadly protests.

Israel's Channel 2 TV showed footage of what it said was five miles (eight kilometers) of an intended 75-mile (120-kilometer) stretch of fence being built in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights. A military spokesman confirmed the report.

"We are getting ready for all possibilities from the mass gathering of people ... to attempts to infiltrate and carry out attacks to all-out war," said Col. Eshkol Chekroon, the Israeli commander of the Golan region.

Israel already has barriers separating itself from the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and along its southern border with Egypt.

The Palestinians want to build an independent state in Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem _ territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to keep parts of the West Bank and opposes any withdrawal from east Jerusalem. Israel withdrew from Gaza, located on Israel's southwest flank, in 2005.

The Palestinians say they will not negotiate until Israel accepts its 1967 prewar lines as the basis of a peace deal. They also say that Israel must stop building Jewish settlements on occupied land.

With talks at a standstill, they plan on asking the U.N. to vote in favor of establishing a Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines.

They plan to turn first to the Security Council, whose decisions are legally binding. But with the U.S. expected to use its veto, the Palestinians then plan to go to the General Assembly, where they have an assured majority, for nonmember state status.

A resolution by the General Assembly, however, would have little more than symbolic value because it would not be legally binding.