The Palestinian Authority’s (PA) bid for United Nations recognition of a Palestinian state remains on track, despite heavy pressure from the U.S. and Israel. But what has received scant attention is the possibility that the September bid may also result in a collision between popular, grassroots Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation and the PA’s preferred avenues to statehood.
Following imprisoned Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti’s call for mass marches ahead of the September UN gambit for a state, the Palestinian Authority echoed Barghouti’s call.
Palestinian officials have said they will begin mass marches against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank on September 20, the eve of a largely symbolic UN vote expected to recognise their independence.
Yasser Abed Rabbo, a Palestinian official, said leaders hope to attract millions of people, and the protest will be the first of a prolonged effort.
He said the campaign would be called “Palestine 194″ because the Palestinians hope to become the 194th member of the UN.
“The appeal to the UN is a battle for all Palestinians, and in order to succeed, it needs millions to pour into streets,” Abed Rabbo said.
But this week, the form of the PA’s planned “resistance” became clear, and it will certainly not mark the end of coordination between PA security forces and the Israeli military, one of the most important–and disliked among Palestinians–results of the Oslo era.
The Palestinian Authority has ordered its security forces to prevent demonstrations planned for September from escalating into violent confrontations with Israel, especially in potential friction points like the roadblocks and settlements.
Senior Palestinian Authority figures issued the orders to the Palestinian security forces in recent weeks out of concern that there may be violent clashes between thousands of Palestinian demonstrators and Israel Defense Forces at the end of September, following a vote at the United Nations General Assembly for recognition of a Palestinian state
In similar messages relayed to the IDF, the PA made clear that it intended to prevent largescale violent protests which would heighten tensions and undermine security cooperation between the two sides.
Last week PA President Mahmoud Abbas called on all Palestinians to participate in non-violent marches which are part of a series of events planned by the Authority for late September. Earlier this week, the General Secretary of the PLO Executive Committee, Yasser Abed Rabbo, announced that plans to hold a mass rally on September 20 when UN deliberations in New York begin.
The Palestinian demonstrations are scheduled to take place in the centers of Palestinian cities – and not in locations where they may lead to friction with Israelis. Moreover, the PLO is sponsoring the events and the security forces are charged with overseeing order.
The PA, it seems, intends to coopt Palestinian resistance against the occupation. But it is highly unlikely that will fly with grassroots activists involved in the popular committees that demonstrate against the illegal separation barrier and settlements in the West Bank every week. A confrontation between the PA and Palestinians seems likely, and is not without precedent. As Adam Shatz pointed out in a recent piece in the London Review of Books, the PA turned back protesters who attempted to march to the Hawara checkpoint outside Nablus during the May 15 protests marking the Nakba.
In a statement sent to me by activists in the West Bank, a coalition of popular committees in the West Bank said July 29:
The popular committees against the wall and settlements confirms that next September is the immense popular battle for the recognition of the State of Palestine, number 194 at the UN.
The popular committees against the wall and settlements, in addition to the national committee for popular struggle and the popular struggle coordination committee, have discussed the issue regarding the intention of the Palestinian Authority to go the UN for the recognition of the Palestinian State.
All confirmed the right of the Palestinian people to have their state fully recognized with its capital Jerusalem through going to the UN, guaranteeing holding to the Palestinian fixed rights.
The committees consider the coming September a very important phase of struggle in the history of the Palestinian cause and calls upon the Palestinian people in its all categories wherever they are to actively engage and participate in such a phase. They also calls upon the Palestinian leadership not to tie going to the UN against going back to negotiations.
The committees commit themselves to initiate to work in order to develop intensive action and mobilize people to expand the struggle for recognition of a Palestinian State in the Palestinian and the international arenas using an immense popular struggle program.
Therefore, the committees call upon our Palestinian people in all their locations in Palestine and Diaspora, the fellow Arab countries and the International arena of supporters, solidarity movements and friends around the world to stand with us and act in their communities for the recognition of the Palestinian state to become the state number 194 in the United Nations.
Call on the International movements to mobilize with us on the 21 of September, to make the day a world wide day in support of the right of Palestian people to their own state in freedom, democracy and self determination.
While the popular committee statement expressed support for the UN bid, it is clear that popular struggle leaders are not going to simply gather in Palestinian cities and stay put, especially considering the fact that the popular struggle confronts the Israeli military head on every week. Come September, the PA’s statehood bid could lead to a confrontation with its own people.