RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — Several thousand Palestinians streamed into the center of this West Bank city on Wednesday in a show of support for their president's bid to win U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state.
The rally, in a small square in downtown Ramallah, was carefully orchestrated, with civil servants and schoolchildren given time off to participate. Crowds of youths hoisted Palestinians flags and chanted slogans calling for the establishment of an independent Palestine.
President Mahmoud Abbas is to address the U.N. General Assembly later this week and request full U.N. membership. With peace talks deadlocked for the past three years, the Palestinians believe a strong international endorsement will improve their position in future negotiations.
Israel and the U.S. strongly oppose the push, saying peace can be achieved only through negotiations.
Wednesday's march appeared subdued, with many people using the day off to mingle and do some window shopping. While turnout was modest, participants said the gathering sent an important message.
"We want to live in dignity," said Atallah Wahbeh, a 60-year-old shopkeeper. He said it was important that the U.N. recognize the Palestinian cause, even if there are repercussions, such as a possible cut in American aid.
"We don't need the Americans to buy us with money," he said.
A new poll indicated there is overwhelming popular support for Abbas' recognition quest.
Some 83 percent of Palestinians believe it's a good idea, even though nearly as many — 78 percent — say they expect it will make their daily lives more difficult, according to a new poll by the independent Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research. The survey, conducted last week, included 1,200 respondents and had an error margin of 3 percentage points.
The U.N. bid is seen by many Palestinians as a last option, after two uprisings and two decades of negotiations with Israel failed to produce a state, said pollster Khalil Shikaki. "It's simply a belief that the status quo is worse than the worst that can come out of the U.N.," he said.
Still, some worried about possible repercussions from the U.S. or Israel.
"It's all in vain," said Manal Jaffal, 32, a nurse. "The only thing we are going to achieve is unrest, more protests and clashes, but we won't get a state or anything close to that."
The U.S. has said it would veto Abbas' request in the U.N. Security Council, and members of Congress have threatened to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid to the Palestinians
Israel has not said how it would respond to the recognition bid, but Palestinians fear Israeli troops could tighten West Bank checkpoints or that Israel could suspend the transfer of tax rebates it collects on behalf of the Palestinians.
Abbas seeks U.N. recognition for a state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, the territories Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast War. He has said negotiations with Israel remain his preference, but that he will only resume talks if Israel agrees to the pre-1967 frontier serving as a starting point and if it halts all settlement construction.
Israel has rejected such demands, but three in four Palestinians believe there is no point in negotiations unless the conditions are met, according to the poll.
Shikaki said there is a big disconnect between what the U.N. bid means to the Palestinian leadership and to ordinary Palestinians.
Abbas and his aides believe that despite possible diplomatic repercussions, the Palestinian Authority's current relationship with Israel, including security cooperation, will continue after a possible U.N. vote, Shikaki said.
However, three in four Palestinians expect Abbas' government to behave differently after the delegation returns from the United Nations, and to try to exercise authority over all of the West Bank, even if this leads to friction with Israel.
Two-thirds of Palestinians favor peaceful protests, while one-third says the Palestinians should resume armed struggle, according to Shikaki's poll.
The pollster said he believes Palestinians are increasingly inspired by the successes of peaceful marches during the Arab uprisings that swept the region this year.