RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Keeping hopes high and expectations low is a strategy Palestinians have used for decades to get through the ups and downs of their statehood campaign. Such sentiments were on full display here Thursday.
As Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas prepared for a landmark United Nations vote on whether to upgrade the status of Palestinian territories from “entity” to “state,” thousands of people gathered in Ramallah and other West Bank cities to celebrate what is expected to be a rare diplomatic victory. The final vote was expected to take place in New York later Thursday.
The crowds were a bit smaller and the excitement levels a little lower than the last time Palestinians went to the world body in September 2011 in their failed attempt to win U.N. membership.
But there were still plenty of Palestinian flags, impassioned speeches, street vendors selling lupini beans and a giant-screen television in downtown Ramallah to watch Abbas make his case to the international body.
Even as they danced in the streets during the day’s festivities, Palestinians acknowledged that their struggle for statehood is far from over. But they expressed hope that the vote would bring them a little closer.
“This will strengthen our position, as a people and as a country,’’ said Sahar Safi, 30, a Palestinian refugee from Amman, Jordan, seated in Arafat Square in Ramallah with two young nieces with their faces painted with Palestinian flags. “Now if Abbas wants to negotiate, he’ll have more power.”
Mohamed Yousef, 25, a Ramallah barber, said Palestinians realize that the vote is only a small step.
“We’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time,’’ he said. “But we should not expect that just because we won the vote that the occupation will end. We still need the settlers to leave, prisoners to be released and refugees to come back.”
He said the recent Gaza Strip conflict between Israel and the Islamist militant group Hamas emboldened and inspired many Palestinians in the West Bank to stand up to Israel. He said he hoped the two Palestinian factions would reconcile.
“Arafat used to say that he had an olive branch in one hand and a gun in the other,” Yousef said. “Abbas is our olive branch and Hamas is our gun.”
Ambulance driver Palal Eid, 50, said Palestinian statehood is long overdue.
“We hope this is a turning point,’’ he said. “I’m 50 and I’m still waiting for a state. My father lived to 88 and never saw one.”
Omar Khuffash, 47, who works for a Palestinian housing agency, said Abbas should turn to the international community.
“We’ve had worthless negotiations for 20 years,’’ Khuffash said. “We should forget about Israel and use the U.N. Unless we have assurances from the world, we will never achieve anything from negotiations.”
But then he shrugged and said he believed the international body has also failed Palestinians. “We’ve seen U.N. resolutions for 65 years about human rights, refugees, international law and nothing is ever implemented.”
In a rare scene in Gaza Strip, Hamas officials allowed rivals from Abbas’ Fatah Party to march in the streets to show their support for the U.N. bid. Speeches by Fatah leaders in the West Bank city of Nablus were broadcast on large TV screens in Gaza.
“This sends a clear message to all in the world who love truth and justice that the Palestinian people stand united,’’ said Abu Joda Nahal, a Fatah leader in Gaza.