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Palestinians Seek To End Stalemate With U.N. Bid

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Palestinians Seek To End Stalemate With U.N. Bid

Middle East

Palestinians Seek To End Stalemate With U.N. Bid

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DAVID GREENE, host: It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.

STEVE INSKEEP, host: And I'm Steve Inskeep.

All this year, Israel has been bracing for a possible diplomatic nightmare. Now that nightmare is drawing near.

GREENE: Frustrated with the lack of progress toward a peace settlement, Palestinians are preparing to ask the United Nations to recognize a Palestinian state. Even an American veto in the Security Council might not stop the effort, depending on how the Palestinians proceed.

INSKEEP: It's still not clear what the Palestinians will really do at U.N. meetings next week. Last minute diplomacy continues, but Palestinians are already taking small, symbolic steps, Sheera Frenkel reports.

Last minute diplomacy continues, but Palestinians are already taking small symbolic steps, as Sheera Frenkel reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF A CROWD)

SHEERA FRENKEL: The central post office in the Palestinian city of Ramallah is issuing a series of commemorative stamps and postcards this month, and for the first time, they will identify the country of origin as Palestine.

Postmaster Fathi Shbak says the stamps are meant to inspire pride among Palestinians, and recognition by the rest of the world.

FATHI SHBAK: These things, small things, symbolizes for a country. Any foreign person who sees Palestinian stamps or something there, he will know that there's a country that is called Palestine in this world.

FRENKEL: The leadership is hoping that the U.N. votes in favor of recognizing a Palestinian state that includes the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem: territory seized by Israeli forces in the 1967 War.

Under U.N. rules, such a move would require action by the Security Council, where the U.S. has already signaled it would exercise its veto. The Palestinians could then turn to the General Assembly to upgrade their status to that of a non-member observer state.

Hanan Ashrawi is one of the Palestinian officials involved in the U.N. bid. She says they hope to shake up the moribund Middle East peace process.

Dr. HANAN ASHRAWI: So now we are trying very hard to rescue the chances of peace, and to signal a departure from the business-as-usual-approach, where Israeli power politics and American collusion trumped rule of law and human rights and the requirements of peace.

FRENKEL: Ashrawi says she has received countless phone calls from foreign diplomats and others urging the Palestinians not to go forward with the U.N. bid. She acknowledges that a lot is at stake.

Israeli officials have warned that they could permanently withhold tax revenues from the Palestinian Authority, and a recent bill proposed in the U.S. Congress would suspend U.S. aid to the Palestinians. That combination could bankrupt the Palestinian Authority.

Ashrawi says that the cut-off of funds would fuel anger among Palestinians, but insists that protests in the West Bank timed to coincide with the U.N. bid will be nonviolent.

ASHRAWI: Of course there will be protests. There will be march. Now we are adopting, very clearly, an agenda of nonviolent resistance, and - but at the same time resistance, yes.

FRENKEL: Israeli officials are not so sure. The Defense Ministry has increased the security training it already provides to Jewish settler groups in the West Bank, where approximately 300,000 Jewish settlers live among 2.5 million Palestinians.

Michael Ben Ari, a lawmaker from the pro-settler National Union Party, recently issued a pamphlet to settler leaders encouraging them to organize their own protests.

MICHAEL BEN ARI: (Through translator) We are discussing a number of options how to match them person for person, march for march. The settlements will need extra defenses at this time, and they're making preparations.

FRENKEL: Ben Ari organized a conference in the Israeli parliament last week that focused on what he calls the threats to Israel's settlements, as a result of the Palestinians' U.N. bid.

ARI: (Through translator) We hope, in the end, that we can turn their games into an opportunity for ourselves. We will continue to bring attention to our communities, which are a vital part of the state of Israel, whatever the U.N. says.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAFFIC)

FRENKEL: Standing in front of the Ramallah post office, 22-year-old Aliya Abed says she is excited for by the steps the Palestinian Authority is taking to bolster its bid for statehood. In addition to the new stamps and post cards, mail from the West Bank will now be routed through Jordan, rather than Israel. She says these are important baby steps to reduce Israel's control over the West Bank.

ALIYA ABED: Maybe it is a very simple thing, a stamp. Of course, I think the new stamp is part of an independent state.

FRENKEL: But she adds that one day, she'd like to see the Palestinians handle their own mail, without relying on either Jordan or Israel. Then, she says, they can really call themselves independent.

For NPR News, I'm Sheera Frenkel.

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