Middle East

Palestinians seek state and trappings of a state

KFC in Ramallah
Image caption Could the arrival of big global brands be another step towards Palestinian statehood?

Palestinians got long awaited access to a global institution this month.

"I've got a three-piece spicy chicken box with fries," beamed Shadi, an office worker in Ramallah, as he sat back and licked his lips.

Kentucky Fried Chicken became the first major fast food franchise to open here.

Ramallah has a "Stars And Bucks", mostly frequented by the latter, rather than the former. But no McDonald's. Not even Wimpy.

In the week Palestinians take their quest for statehood to the United Nations, it obliged me to ask Shadi one simple, if facetious, question: today KFC, tomorrow a state?

"Maybe," he laughs. "If we succeed at the UN, maybe we'll get more things like this."

Big global brands like stability and profitability.

Kentucky Fried Chicken deems 109 countries around the world suitable for money-making.

Some see the arrival of a big international franchise as a small but not insignificant sign that Palestinians are ready for statehood.

"We are ready for a state. Zimbabwe is a state, Somalia is a state. I think Palestine is in much better shape, in terms of administration and economy," says Ahmad Aweidah, the English public school-educated chief executive of the Palestinian stock exchange.

"It's not about Palestinian readiness. It's about the world coming to terms with its obligation to the Palestinian people."

The right step?

Palestinians know the United Nations move will not change anything on the ground. It will not end Israel's occupation. Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem will not disappear. Palestinians will control no borders.

But for the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank, it is about applying pressure on Israel for any future negotiations.

"The peace process is not going anywhere. The facts on the ground are changing all the time. Israel continues to build settlements," says Mohammad Shtayyeh, a senior negotiator who will help write President Mahmoud Abbas' speech at the United Nations this week.

"The only option we have is to go to the United Nations and ask for recognition of the 1967 borders. This is not a unilateral move. The United Nations is a multilateral forum."

But Palestinians are not united over whether the UN move is the right step.

"I don't think it's a priority," says Johnny Dahoud, an IT consultant in Ramallah.

"Nobody asked us if this is what we wanted. I don't think being admitted to the UN will end the occupation."

For those in favour of the UN move, including the political leadership on the West Bank, there is a sense of anticipation and a feeling that diplomatically, Israel is on the back foot.

But critics, including the Hamas movement which governs in Gaza, have called the UN move divisive and a political scam.

Mofeed Ahmed, a 35-year-old computer engineer, lives in Gaza.

Image caption Palestinians are not united over whether the UN bid is the right move

"I don't understand anything about the step , so I can't support it , also I do not trust Mahmoud Abbas and his leadership, so even if we got the recognition, we are still under occupation, we need our freedom, we have hundreds of UN resolutions since 1948, the UN is too weak and its controlled by the US so I think we as Palestinian should fight the occupation and not waste our time in useless steps," Mofeed Ahmed argues.

Mr Abbas's critics also say he cannot really claim to speak for all Palestinians because Hamas remain in power in Gaza where more than 1.5 million people live.

Hamas and its secular rival Fatah, Mr Abbas's party, are likely try to score points over each other during the coming weeks.

The unity deal that the two movements signed earlier this year has proved to be something of an illusion.

What strategy?

If Mr Abbas comes back from New York empty-handed and is seen to have compromised, he will lose face in front of Hamas.

Palestinians who are for and against the UN move have both told me the same thing this week. If the 76-year-old president is seen to back down, he could be politically finished.

There are fears in Israel that the Palestinian approach to the UN could lead to violence.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has warned of "harsh and grave consequences".

Palestinian leaders, though, have urged that any demonstrations in the coming days should be peaceful.

Image caption President Abbas' strategy for the UN meeting has been the subject of endless speculation

As for Mr Abbas' strategy at the United Nations this week, the speculation has been endless. Journalists and pundits have been tying themselves in knots over which route Mr Abbas will take.

He could go to the UN General Assembly of 193 countries and ask to be recognised as a non-member state. He would probably get enough support to succeed.

This could allow Palestinians to launch prosecutions against Israel in international courts.

The second route would be to ask to become a full member state which would need approval from the UN Security Council and risk an almost certain American veto.

The truth is that probably only Mr Abbas and a handful of his advisers really know what the plan is. Maybe the president himself has not fully made up his mind.

American and European diplomats will continue to apply pressure to try and get the Palestinians to change course in the coming days.

One Palestinian official told me the Americans had been behaving like "gangsters" with unspoken threats.

Palestinians have been waiting more than 60 years for a state. Their approach to the UN could get them one, if only in name.

This month a production of Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot" has been playing in the West Bank, performed by the Jenin Freedom Theatre.

Palestinians will be hoping their United Nations move for statehood does not have a "Beckettian" conclusion.

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