Palestinians launch PR blitz to rally support for UN membership

Palestinians are launching a campaign to rally support for UN recognition as an independent state, planning demonstrations in the Palestinian territories and worldwide before asking the UN to accept them as a full member state.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attends a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Thursday. (Majdi Mohammed/Associated Press)

The Palestinians launched a campaign on Thursday to rally support for U.N. recognition as an independent state, planning demonstrations in the Palestinian territories and worldwide before asking the world body to accept them as a full member state later this month.

The public relations blitz helps set up a diplomatic showdown at the U.N., where Israel and the U.S. are leading opposition to the bid, and adds to concerns in Israel that mass demonstrations could turn violent.

The U.S. administration said for the first time Thursday that it would veto any Security Council resolution to recognize Palestinian statehood.

With peace talks deadlocked for nearly three years, the Palestinians plan to ask the United Nations to recognize their independence in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem — areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war.

Although the vote will not change the situation on the ground, the Palestinians believe a strong international endorsement will isolate Israel and boost their position in future negotiations. Israel opposes a full withdrawal to its 1967 lines that mark the West Bank's boundaries.

At Thursday's ceremony, some 100 Palestinian officials and activists gathered at the U.N. offices in Ramallah for a short ceremony, where they spelled out their plans in an informal letter addressed to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

"We urge you to add your moral voice in support of the Palestinian people enjoying a life of freedom and dignity, like the rest of the people of the world," the letter says.

The letter was delivered by Latifa Abu Hmeid, a 70-year-old woman who lost one son in fighting with Israel and has seven other sons in Israeli prisons because of alleged militant activities. Officials said Abu Hmeid was selected to deliver the document because her personal story reflects the plight of the Palestinians.

Thursday's event was organized by the Palestine Liberation Organization, the umbrella group that is dominated by President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement. The Palestinians have yet to say when they would submit their formal request to the U.N. and what form it would take.

Protests to begin Friday

Campaign organizer Ahmed Assaf, a Fatah spokesman, said that Palestinians would begin staging small protests in the West Bank on Friday.

The program will be capped by mass demonstrations throughout the area on Sept. 21, when the U.N. General Assembly opens, and Sept. 23, when Abbas delivers his speech seeking recognition as the 194th member of the world body.

"Today is the official launch of our campaign: Palestine State 194," Assaf said. "We picked the U.N. because the U.N. represents political legitimacy for the Palestinians."

Despite the high-profile campaign, key questions remain. The Palestinians have been vague on whether they will seek membership from the Security Council or the General Assembly.

The 15-member council is the most powerful body at the U.N. Its decisions are legally binding and its backing is necessary for full membership. The U.S., however, as one of five permanent members of the council, would veto any Palestinian request, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Thursday, after months of administration hinting in that direction.