x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Palestinians say 'now the world recognises our humanity'

Through the vote, the Palestinian Authority has secured the occupied territories - the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem - providing a level of legitimacy that Palestinians hope will lead to a future state.

RAMALLAH // The excitement of securing non-member state recognition at the United Nations had ebbed by yesterday morning as Palestinians awoke to a world still defined by Israeli domination.

Israeli checkpoints still restrict their movement. Israeli settlements still encroach on land for their hoped-for state. And the powerful Israeli military still roams the West Bank.

Israel, as it has for the past 45 years, still remains their occupier.

But Bassem Tannou, 45, an owner of a jewellery shop in downtown Ramallah, said: "Now the world recognises our humanity."

"We don't have much money. We don't have an army or real borders. But it shows the world sees us as humans now."

He was referring to the overwhelming support in the UN's General Assembly for a measure to upgrade Palestinian status in the world body. One-hundred-and-thirty-eight voted in favour of the upgrade on Wednesday. Forty-one abstained. Nine, including the United States and Israel, voted no.

Through the vote, the Palestinian Authority (PA) president, Mahmoud Abbas, has secured the occupied territories - the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem - a level of legitimacy at the world body that Palestinians hope will lead to a Palestinian state.

Mr Abbas' bid even received a nod of approval from his Palestinian rival Khaled Meshaal, the exiled leader of Hamas, which controls Gaza and had itself received a boost of support during last month's war with Israel.

Now the Palestinians can participate in international organisations, including the International Criminal Court (ICC),.

Shortly after Thursday's successful vote, at least one Palestinian official warned Israel that they could in future take Israel to the ICC over war crimes.

"As long as the Israelis are not committing atrocities, are not building settlements, are not violating international law, then we don't see any reason to go anywhere," said the Palestinian foreign minister, Riyad Al Maliki.

"If the Israelis continue with such policy - aggression, settlements, assassinations, attacks, confiscations, building walls - violating international law, then we have no other remedy but really to knock those to other places" such as the ICC

Still, Mr Abbas and other officials have said their first priority is resuming negotiations with Israel over the creation of a Palestinian state. Peace talks broke down two years ago because Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, refused to stop settlers from building in the occupied West Bank.

Mr Abbas has demanded a complete halt to their construction before returning to negotiations.

He may now have more leverage in that arena, but his caution on the ICC may also stem from Israeli and US ability to inflict crippling punishment on the PA. It is reeling from a financial crisis.

Israel, which collects PA tax revenues on its behalf, could easily withhold its disbursement, as it has in the past.Despite the possibility of Israeli reprisals, Farraj Sammouda, 27, a money-changer in Ramallah, yesterday called the UN success "a small step on the road freedom".

"The countries of the world showed they support us, which is something new for the Palestinians," he said.

"The Israelis, he added, "usually get everything from us".

He referred to the symbolic timing of the Palestinians' UN vote: exactly 65 years to the day, on November 29, 1947, the world body's General Assembly voted to partition what was then British-controlled Palestine between a Jewish and Arab state.

The Jewish leadership at the time accepted the plan, and Israelis see it as a basis of legitimacy for their state.

Palestinians rue it as the international community sanctioning their dispossession. Partition gave a then-minority Jewish population of 33 per cent, which owned about seven per cent of the land, control over some 56 per cent of all British Mandate Palestine.

Palestinians and the wider Arab world rejected partition and violence ensued. The resulting Nakba, or "catastrophe" as Palestinians call Israel's creation, forced about 750,000 Palestinians off their land.

Now, with their UN success six decades later, some feel a sense of pride if not comeuppance.

"PALESTINE is born," Daoud Kuttab, a well-known Palestinian writer, said on Twitter.