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Palestinians' gambit for UN recognition wobbles

Even as the Arab League threw its weight behind the Palestinian Authority's bid for UN recognition of a Palestinian state, officials are having second thoughts.

By Correspondent / July 14, 2011

A Palestinian woman and a child walked to a celebration earlier this month for land that was returned to Palestinians after Israel rerouted a section of its controversial barrier separating the Jewish settlement of Modiin Illit (in background) and the West Bank village of Bilin, near Ramallah.

Mohamad Torokman/Reuters

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Ramallah, West Bank

After 20 years of negotiations with Israel and no lasting peace, Palestinians are pursuing a more unorthodox route: getting the United Nations to recognize Palestine as an independent state – and, ideally, welcome it as a new UN member.

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Two-thirds of Palestinians support the UN bid, which has lifted their expectations of sovereignty.

But now, with the potential vote just two months away and the paperwork due this month, Palestinian Authority (PA) officials appear to be getting cold feet. The United States has vowed to veto the move, all but guaranteeing that Palestinians would be denied full UN membership.

While the UN could instead make a symbolic declaration or upgrade the PA's observer status, officials are increasingly worried that a symbolic but toothless measure could prompt popular frustration and anger that would weaken the PA and strengthen hard-liners like Hamas.

"We need practical help in ending the occupation. Symbolic or declarative achievements [are] not exactly what we are looking for – although useful – [they're] not good enough," says Palestinian government spokesman Ghassan Khatib. "The Palestinian leadership has been promising or expecting to deliver in September. When it fails, it will undermine its public standing and strengthen the standing of the opposition."

The Palestinians are still considering their options. Today they sought the advice of neighbors on the UN move at a meeting of the Arab League in Doha, Qatar while chief negotiator Saeb Erekat drew up a paper laying out the pros and cons of various strategies at the UN, according to Israel Radio. The Arab League later announced that it will ask the UN for recognition of an independent Palestinian state.

Detractors on all sides

Indeed, members of the Islamist Hamas movement in charge of the Gaza Strip argue that the statehood bid is fundamentally flawed.

"[The late Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat had announced a state in the 1980s, and many countries recognized Palestine as a state, but what did he gain?" asks Ammar Ahmed, a young Hamas policeman and member of a Hamas armed wing in Gaza. "Nothing but a stupid useless peace process that has harmed the Palestinian cause and the legal struggle of the Palestinians to defy the Israeli occupation.

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