Palestinians launch bid to join UN
The Palestinians have officially launched their campaign to join the United Nations as a full member state, saying they will stage a series of peaceful events in the run-up to the annual gathering of the UN General Assembly later this month.
About 100 Palestinian officials and activists gathered at the UN offices in Ramallah for a short ceremony, where they announced their plans in a letter addressed to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The letter urges Mr Ban to add his "moral voice in support of the Palestinian people".
The letter was handed over 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 Ms Abu Hmeid was selected to deliver the document because her personal story reflects the plight of the Palestinians. A resident of a West Bank refugee camp, her house has twice been demolished by Israeli authorities as punishment for her sons' activities, they said.
The Palestinians have decided to turn to the UN to recognise their independence after two decades of unsuccessful peace efforts with Israel. The latest round of talks broke down a year ago. The campaign seeks recognition of an independent Palestine in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem - areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war. Israel rejects a return to its 1967 lines.
While any UN vote will be largely symbolic, the Palestinians believe a strong international endorsement will boost their position and put pressure on Israel should negotiations resume. Israel has been lobbying the international community to oppose the vote, saying peace can only be achieved through negotiation.
The letter says the campaign will include a series of peaceful events "in various international cities and capitals" leading up to the September 21 opening of the General Assembly. Two days later, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will address the gathering in New York and ask for admission to the United Nations.
It remains unclear whether the Palestinians will turn to the Security Council or the General Assembly. The council needs nine votes out of 15 and no veto from any of its permanent members to pass a decision. The United States, which opposes the Palestinian bid, is expected to veto any request in the council.
The Palestinians could then seek admission as a "non-member state" of the General Assembly, like the Vatican.
Approval in the Assembly, which is dominated by developing nations sympathetic to the Palestinians, is assured, but the vote would not be legally binding. The Palestinians say they will continue their campaign until they gain full UN membership.
Although the Palestinians say their campaign will be peaceful, Israeli military officials fear that mass demonstrations in the West Bank could turn violent. Security forces have been preparing for the possibility of violence, conducting exercises and stockpiling what they say is "non-lethal" riot-control equipment like tear gas, water cannons and stun grenades.