President Mahmoud Abbas’s bid to seek UN recognition of a Palestinian state is not generating much enthusiasm in the isolated Gaza Strip, where internal political divisions run deep.
The Islamist Hamas movement, which seized the territory from forces loyal to Abbas’s Fatah group in 2007, sees the move as an exercise in futility in a quest for statehood.
Many Palestinians in the Gaza Strip seem to agree with that assessment and are asking why the mainstream Palestinian leadership, based in the West Bank, did not first tackle problems holding up implementation of a unity deal with Hamas, Reuters reports.
“Why should we go to the United Nations while division exists?” asked Deeb Sukkar, 54, whose family had to flee the nearby port city of Jaffa in 1948, when Israel was created.
Since the brief civil war with Hamas four years ago, Abbas has not set foot in Gaza and holds sway only in the West Bank, an area under Israeli occupation and where his Palestinian Authority (PA) exercises a measure of self-rule.
“I advise the Palestinian leadership in Gaza and the West Bank to stand before the Palestinian people directly and resign because they failed to reconcile,” said Sukkar, who lives in the Beach refugee camp in Gaza.
Fatah leaders signed a reconciliation deal with Hamas counterparts in April, but the agreement has stalled in a dispute over who will lead a unity government they agreed to form ahead of a new parliamentary election.
Ahmed Kullab, a 21-year-old university student, said he backed Abbas’s U.N. initiative, but feared he “will only exhaust himself because America will use the veto.”
He was referring to the possibility that Abbas would apply for full U.N. membership for Palestine, a status only the Security Council can approve.
The United States has already said it would veto such a move and has urged the Palestinians to return to negotiations with Israel frozen, soon after they began last September, in a dispute over Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank.
But Wasim Abeid, an Abbas loyalist, said that “after a lengthy struggle” for statehood, it was “high time we harvested its fruits.”
“It is an obligation that must be given and it is not a gift, neither by America nor by the United Nations,” the 34-year-old civil servant said.
Hamas’s founding charter calls for the destruction of the Jewish state and it has always rejected PA overtures with Israel, which imposes a firm blockade on the enclave.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri equally dismissed Abbas’s unilateral initiative at the United Nations. “It is a cosmetic step that will not bring any useful result to the Palestinian people,” he said.
But Gaza political analyst Hani Habib said it was high time for action in the United Nations, noting the world body had been responsible “in the legal sense” for Israel’s creation under a 1947 plan partitioning British-mandated Palestine into independent Arab and Jewish states.
Habib said “disappointment over the negotiating process” had spurred Abbas into action.
The analyst cautioned, however, that rallies Palestinians plan in the West Bank in support of the statehood bid could lead to violent confrontations with Israeli forces. Hamas is unlikely to let any big rallies take place in Gaza.
“Israel may fabricate many incidents so that the news of the incidents overshadows events at the United Nations,” Habib said.
Palestinian leaders say the rallies will be peaceful and held away from Israeli military checkpoints. Israeli leaders have played down the prospects for clashes and said Israeli security forces have been trained in non-lethal crowd control, while also preparing for any Palestinian violence.
His back to the wall in a Beach refugee camp alleyway, Mahmoud Amer, a 52-year-old restaurant worker, said there could be only one diplomatic solution for Palestinians, a state of their own that is recognised internationally.
“The conflict is not over and it will never be over unless the Palestinian state is established with Jerusalem as its capital,” he said.