Palestinians React To U.N. Bid For Statehood
MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
In cities around the West Bank today, huge crowds of Palestinians gathered around large television screens to watch and cheer as Mahmoud Abbas made his case for U.N. membership.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
BLOCK: In one village, Palestinians carried a large, blue chair - a symbol of the U.N. seat they're demanding. Sporadic clashes with Israeli settlers broke out, and a Palestinian man was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers. We're turning now to Ramallah in the West Bank, and to NPR's Lourdes Garcia Navarro, who's among a crowd of Palestinians gathered to watch Mr. Abbas' speech. Lulu, what's the scene like there?
LOURDES GARCIA: Well, I can tell you that the scene is incredibly raucous and incredibly joyous. People here really tell me that they felt touched by Mahmoud Abbas's speech. They really felt that he gave a voice to them today. And here in the newly named Yasser Arafat Square, there are thousands of Palestinians waving flags, holding up banners, crying out for what they say is their legitimate right for their own, independent state. They say this was an incredibly important day, whatever comes.
And in fact, here with me right now, I have Bashir Saadi(ph), who was watching the speech here in the square, and I'm going to pass you to him so you can get some Palestinian reaction directly from a Palestinian. Hold on.
BASHIR SAADI: Yes. We're really very happy to hear Mr. Mahmoud Abbas today. His speech was very positive to the Palestinian people, and I hope it will be positive, also, for the whole world.
BLOCK: I'm curious. After you heard Mahmoud Abbas today call this a moment of truth, what are your expectations after his speech today?
SAADI: We feel that it's the start, OK? The whole world now will hear about Palestine. And I think it's a good step from Mahmoud Abbas to start a process like this.
BLOCK: You're seeing this as a start of something that could evolve?
SAADI: Right. I mean, maybe the majority of the world is supporting establishing a Palestinian state. But we know that it is not going to happen very soon. That's what the people thinking here. But at least, Mr. Mahmoud Abbas is trying.
BLOCK: Mr. Saadi, I wonder if you worry that this bid by the Palestinians for U.N. recognition could backfire, both in terms of losing U.S. financial support to the Palestinian Authority, and also losing Israeli interest in negotiating.
SAADI: Well, I mean, I'm sure. Today I was watching the news, and one of the Palestinian Authority was on TV. And he said that definitely, we will lose the American support financially. But he said our dignity is more important then financial aid to the Palestinians, still we could live. On the other hand, if the Israelis lost their interest in making peace with us, it will - I'm sure it will backfire on Palestinian. But it will backfire, again, on the Israelis, because the conflict will be more complicated day by day.
BLOCK: Mr. Saadi, I gather you're there with your children watching this speech today. What did you tell them about what this moment means?
SAADI: Everybody is teaching their children now, peace is the most important thing in the world. We are teaching them that we should, and we will, be living side by side with the Israelis. You know, as a businessman in here, I have a lot of Israeli friends. We - I go to their houses, eat dinner. They come to my house sometimes. So we - I teach my children that the Israelis are not our enemies. And the contrary, they are our friends, our neighbors. And we should live in peace with them.
BLOCK: You're saying you have a lot of Israeli friends there in the West Bank. There are more than 300,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank. What, in your view, should happen to them in an eventual Palestinian state?
SAADI: Well, they are more than welcome to live in the West Bank areas under, even, the Palestinian Authority. I'm sure the Palestinian Authority will protect them. Once we reach a peace, that means there's no difference between an Israeli living in West Bank, or if we go and visit an Israeli in Tel Aviv. I know a lot of people who do not mind if the settlers live in the West Bank area. They can come and buy from our stores. You know, they don't mind it.
BLOCK: Well, Mr. Saadi, thank you very much for talking with us today.
SAADI: Thank you. Thank you, ma'am.
BLOCK: That was Bashir Saadi, a businessman in Ramallah, in the West Bank. We also heard from NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro.
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