RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — Palestinians calling for U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state clashed with Israeli soldiers in the West Bank on Friday, just hours before their president, Mahmoud Abbas, was to deliver his widely anticipated request to the world body.
The confrontations were small, involving several dozen Palestinians in each of three locations. At Qalandiya, a major Israeli checkpoint between the West Bank and Jerusalem, Israeli troops fired tear gas to disperse Palestinian stone-throwers.
In the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, demonstrators carried a chair painted in the U.N.'s signature blue to symbolize the quest for recognition. They burned Israeli flags and posters of President Barack Obama, and threw stones before being enveloped by tear gas fired by Israeli troops. Clashes were also reported in nearby the village of Bilin.
Abbas has called for peaceful marches in support of his bid to win U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem — territories Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast War. Friday is typically a day of Palestinian protests in the West Bank, and the latest unrest did not go beyond the usual scope.
Israeli security forces stepped up their deployment in anticipation of possible widespread violence, though security officials recently scaled back those forecasts. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said 22,000 officers were on duty across the country Friday.
In the West Bank, outdoor screens were set up in town squares to enable residents to watch Abbas' speech together.
"I am going to listen to Abbas' speech because it will tell us our future and our destiny, and we are expecting so much from him, to declare our state," said Khalil Jaberi, a 21-year-old university student in the city of Hebron.
In Ramallah, the seat of Abbas' government, volunteers set up plastic chairs in front of a screen in the main square. "I am waiting for the speech," said unemployed Ahmed Tutanji, sipping coffee from a plastic cup, as he sat on one of the chairs. "I am waiting to see what happens. Will this be resolved or not? Will we have a state? We should have a state. We have been demanding this for years."
Full U.N. membership can only be bestowed by the U.N. Security Council where Abbas' request will almost certainly be derailed — either by a failure to win the needed nine votes in the 15-member body or, if the necessary majority is obtained, by a U.S. veto.
The Palestinians say they are seeking full U.N. membership to underscore their right to statehood, but have left open the option of a lesser alternative — a non-member observer state. Such a status would be granted by the General Assembly, where the Palestinians enjoy broad support.
Siding with Israel, Obama has said a Palestinian state can only be established as a result of negotiations, and that there is no short-cut to Palestinian independence. Abbas has said negotiations remain his preference, but that he will not resume talks — frozen since 2008 — unless Israel agrees to the pre-1967 frontier as a baseline and freezes all settlement construction on occupied land.
The Palestinian demands are widely backed by the international community, but Obama has been unable to persuade Israel's hardline prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to agree to them.
Netanyahu says he wants to negotiate without preconditions and accuses the Palestinians of missing an opportunity for peace. Abbas says settlement expansion pre-empts the outcome of negotiations by creating facts on the ground.
Abbas enjoys broad popular support at home for his recognition bid, but his main political rival, the Islamic militant Hamas, opposes it. Hamas has ruled the Gaza Strip since seizing it from Abbas in a violent takeover in 2007.
Gaza's Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, told reporters after Muslim prayers Friday that Abbas was giving up Palestinian rights by seeking recognition for a state in the pre-1967 borders. Hamas' founding charter calls for the destruction of Israel and a state in all of the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, though some Hamas officials have suggested they would support a peace deal based on the 1967 lines.
"The Palestinian people do not beg the world for a state, and the state can't be created through decisions and initiatives," Haniyeh said. "States liberate their land first and then the political body can be established."
Associated Press writers Dalia Nammari in Ramallah, Nasser Shiyoukhi in Hebron and Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City contributed reporting.