Palestinians skeptical about significance of U.N. vote

The Economist: With the triumphant arrival of Khalid Meshal, the leader of Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs Gaza, on December 7th, President Mahmoud Abbas could be forgiven for wondering who will remember his return from the United Nations armed with international recognition of Palestine as a non-member state.

“Jubilant Palestinians celebrate UN vote,” trumpeted Fox News, an American cable news channel. “Abbas returns to hero’s welcome,” cried Al Jazeera. But for all the international fanfare accompanying the overwhelming international support for Mr Abbas, at home the Palestinian public failed to rally with the exuberance Mr Abbas’s spokesmen and the international media claimed. Only a few hundred people—mostly civil servants, journalists and plain-clothes police in their tell-tale fur-lined jackets—filled the small space in front of a stage of Ramallah’s small central square where the Palestinian Authority relayed President Mahmoud Abbas’ speech. Elsewhere the streets seemed eerily quiet.

For Mr Abbas’s international backers, who hoped that the UN vote might bolster his domestic standing, the turnout was disappointing. Hours before the vote on November 29th, European diplomats predicted that tens of thousands would attend. While 138 countries voted for Mr Abbas’s resolution, his own population appeared agnostic at best. Orjwan, a raucous bar favoured by Ramallah’s moneyed elite had more clientele than PA-sponsored rallies in some Palestinian cities. Although two television screens relayed the UN vote in the packed bar, the volume was muted. Mr Abbas “epitomises the decades devoted to a fruitless peace process and trust in the international community,” says a Palestinian businesswoman, who stayed away from the rallies. “It doesn’t convince anyone.”

Many Palestinians are dubious that the vote will prompt outsiders to do anything to end Israel’s 45-year-long occupation. Twenty years of international grand-standing from the White House lawns to the UN podium have left Israel’s hold on the West Bank increasingly entrenched with three times more Jewish settlers occupying the territory than when the Oslo process began in 1993. Ironically, the strongest show of support for Mr Abbas’s UN bid took place in Hamas’s enclave of Gaza, where an estimated 7,000 took to the streets. Based in the Highlands of the West Bank, Mr Abbas has not visited Gaza since 2007, and has no control on the ground. [Continue reading…]

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