RAMALLAH, WEST BANK // Several thousand Palestinians streamed into the centre of this West Bank city on Wednesday in a show of support for their president's bid to win UN recognition of a Palestinian state.
The rally, in a small square in central Ramallah, was carefully orchestrated, with civil servants and schoolchildren given time off to participate. Crowds of youths hoisted Palestinians flags and chanted slogans calling for the establishment of an independent Palestine.
President Mahmoud Abbas is to address the UN General Assembly later this week and request full UN membership. With peace talks deadlocked for the past three years, the Palestinians believe a strong international endorsement will improve their position in future negotiations.
Israel and the US strongly oppose the push, saying peace can be achieved only through negotiations.
President Barack Obama will publicly push for the Palestinians to drop a statehood bid when he addresses the UN General Assembly on Wednesday. Mr Obama will follow up his speech with separate meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders as he seeks to coax both parties back to direct peace talks. Wednesday's march in Ramallah appeared subdued, with many people using the day off to mingle and do some window shopping. While turnout was modest, participants said the gathering sent an important message.
"We want to live in dignity," said Atallah Wahbeh, a 60-year-old shopkeeper. He said it was important that the UN recognise the Palestinian cause, even if there are repercussions, such as a possible cut in American aid.
"We don't need the Americans to buy us with money," he said.
A new poll indicated there is overwhelming popular support for Mr Abbas' recognition quest.
Some 83 per cent of Palestinians believe it's a good idea, even though nearly as many - 78 per cent - say they expect it will make their daily lives more difficult, according to a new poll by the independent Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research. The survey, conducted last week, included 1,200 respondents.
The UN bid is seen by many Palestinians as a last option, after two uprisings and two decades of negotiations with Israel failed to produce a state, said pollster Khalil Shikaki. "It's simply a belief that the status quo is worse than the worst that can come out of the UN," he said.
Still, some worried about possible repercussions from the U.S. or Israel.
The US has said it would veto Abbas' request in the UN Security Council, and members of Congress have threatened to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in US aid to the Palestinians
Israel has not said how it would respond to the recognition bid, but Palestinians fear Israeli troops could tighten West Bank checkpoints or that Israel could suspend the transfer of tax rebates it collects on behalf of the Palestinians.
Mr Abbas seeks UN recognition for a state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, the territories Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East War. He has said negotiations with Israel remain his preference, but that he will only resume talks if Israel agrees to the Pre-1967 frontier serving as a starting point and if it halts all settlement construction.