Hope mixed with cynicism in Bethlehem ahead of UN bid

“It’s important to show the children that we will have our democratic state,” resident says, "they need to know they have a future."

A SIGN displaying the images of Yasser Arafat, Abbas (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
A SIGN displaying the images of Yasser Arafat, Abbas
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Palestinians in Bethlehem on Wednesday voiced their support for the Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations, but repeatedly expressed doubt that the vote would pass, as well as fears about how Israel would react if the UN makes Palestine its newest member state.
Hundreds of plastic water bottles littered Manger Square in the city Wednesday afternoon, shortly after a statehood rally that Palestinian police said was attended by over 3,000 people. Schoolchildren and shopkeepers milled around the square, which was ringed by “UN 194 Palestinian State” posters. The rally was one of a series held in cities across the Palestinian cities of the West Bank on Wednesday, the largest a demonstration held in downtown Ramallah.
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Ali, a 26-year-old working at his parents’ souvenir store next to the square said he attended the rally because “it’s important to show the children that we will have our democratic state,” adding that “around half of the children are from the refugee camps and they need to know they have a future.”
When asked how having an independent state will improve his life he said, “when you have your own state and government you can do what you want. If it is accepted, we will have our state and be sovereign. The US will give the veto though and people will go crazy.”
Ali said that the anger would not spill into a third intifada, saying, “the people have gotten tired, they won’t fight. They will just hold more demonstrations. But we don’t know what can happen; maybe Abbas would agree to not call for a state and to open negotiations [with Israel], we don’t know, you can’t know what is tomorrow.”
Further down the street, shopkeeper Amer El-Alam said that while he isn’t sure how statehood would make his life better, it would mean “we’d have our own country, our own government and democracy, and not live under the Israelis.” When asked about contentions that statehood should come through negotiations with Israel and not unilateral declarations, El- Alam said, “We have been for 63 years negotiating. What has negotiations ever done for us? The land goes, the settlements grow, and we have nothing.”
Bethlehem residents expressed a contention that the vote is a fixed game, that the United States will veto it in the Security Council no matter what. Some said that even if there is no US veto and statehood is approved, the IDF will spur provocations between settlers and Palestinians with the hope of an escalation that will bring a third intifada and scuttle Palestinian statehood aspirations.
“People are sure that the Israeli army will do something with the settlers to start violence. They begin with the settlers by giving them guns, and they are beginning to cause problems. They want an intifada, they push the settlers to start this,” said Jamal, a filmmaker loitering in the square after the rally.
“But the Palestinians are very tired, they’ve had enough. We have big problems here without an intifada; not enough money, not enough work, we don’t move free.”
Jamal said he believes that if statehood is approved, Palestinians’ lives will worsen.
“The Israelis will not accept it and they will make problems,” he said.
In downtown Hebron Wednesday afternoon, hours after a statehood rally was held, residents repeated a similar theme of hope mixed with cynicism.
Like in Bethlehem and cities and towns across the West Bank, posters championing the UN vote were plastered across town on street lamps and across the back windshields of cars, as well as banners showing Yasser Arafat and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas next to the words “UN 194.”
“If we win the vote, we will have a border, a sky, a future. If they don’t approve it we have nothing. We are hopeful, but we are sure America will use the veto,” said Walid, in the office of a money exchange business in the center of the city.
“If this happens, the [Palestinian] people will become very angry with the government of America. America is like the mother of Israel, always giving Israel money.”
Like all those spoken to by The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, Walid insisted that the Palestinian people would not launch a third intifada as an answer to their frustrations.
“Maybe there will be some violence with settlers, but we don’t believe the violence can get us anything.
“We will just hold more of these protests.”