West bank crowds erupt as Abbas demands U.N. membership


As Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas called on the United Nations to recognize the state of Palestine, huge crowds began gathering into the main towns and cities of the West Bank on Friday, hailing his decision to bid for statehood despite opposition from Israel and the United States.

Crowds in Ramallah and across the West Bank cheered and chanted their approval as Abbas submitted demand for a state of Palestine based on 1967 borders, before the Six-Day war with Israel.

“With our souls, with our blood, we will defend Palestine!” they roared as they saw live footage of Abbas holding up a copy of the membership demand he had personally handed to U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon.

“There’s great pride. We are behind president Abbas.” Tawfiq Nimr, 63, told Reuters as he stood to watch the events unfold. “Obama spoke about freedom in the Arab world but forgot that the Palestinian people are under occupation,” Tawfiq said.

Another pro-Abbas onlooker said that Abbas stood up to United States President Barack Obama in his bid for statehood.

“He was strong − the first Arab leader to challenge Obama. This is a historic moment in his life,” said Badr Abdel Razeq, 35, who brought his three children to witness the moment.

Despite the prospect of failure as the United States has already vowed to veto the bid at the U.N. Security Council, Palestinians who turned out on Friday welcomed the step as a change of approach 20 years after the start of peace talks that have failed to deliver their independence.

Abbas’ speech to the General Assembly had detailed Palestinian grievances against Israel and he called on Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to expedite transmittal of his request to the Security Council.

He also called upon “the distinguished members of the Security Council to vote in favor of full membership.”

But Israeli politicians gave an angry response to Abbas’ speech.

“This speech was a real incitement to violence,” Israel’s ultra-nationalist Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Channel 10 television in New York, AFP reported.

His speech “proves that the Palestinians have no intention of negotiating with Israel and that their proposals (to that end) are merely rhetoric,” Lieberman said.

Meanwhile, education Minister Gideon Saar, a close ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, described Abbas’s address to the UN General Assembly as “venomous.”

He said Netanyahu, who was to give his address shortly afterwards, would “certainly not give such a venomous speech.”

Abbas had said in his address that Israel’s settlement policy would “destroy” any chances of achieving a two-state solution, and said he would return to negotiations only if the Israelis agreed to freeze settlement activity and recognize the 1967 lines as being the basis for any future talks.