AP Exclusive: Palestinians plan for calm protests

Associated Press
Palestinian security officers hold their weapons as they participate in a training session in the West Bank city of Jenin, Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2011. (AP Photo/Mohammed Ballas)
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RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — Palestinian leaders have drawn up a plan to keep their rallies in September peaceful, officials said Wednesday, hoping that violence-free demonstrations would boost their drive for a U.N. recognition.

The rallies, set for Palestinian territories and abroad, are to coincide with a hoped-for U.N. endorsement of a Palestinian state. Palestinians adopted the U.N. recognition tactic out of loss of faith in peace talks with Israel. Those negotiations have been frozen for most of the past three years and there is no sign the two sides can agree on conditions to resume them.

Among the Palestinians, there is little stomach for another round of clashes with Israel, just as there are few expectations from the September session at the United Nations in New York.

But feverish preparations by Palestinian officials for the rallies reflect concern that eruptions of violence are a real possibility as thousands take to the streets across the West Bank.

"Palestinian security has taken all necessary measures to prevent these demonstrations from turning into violence," Adnan Dameri, spokesman for the Palestinian security forces, told The Associated Press.

To keep that from happening, the Palestinian leadership has laid out a detailed plan, which was shown to the AP by an official who insisted on anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

The plan allows for marches and rallies inside West Bank cities, but confines them to city limits. Demonstrators will be kept away from flashpoints like Israeli settlements and military checkpoints. Palestinian police would ring West Bank cities to keep protesters far from Israelis.

The campaign is supposed to start in early September, peaking on Sept. 21, when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is scheduled to address the U.N. General Assembly, said organizer Hassan Balawi.

The plan also includes preventing mass charges on Israeli border points. In May, thousands of Palestinians crashed across from Syria into the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, and Israeli soldiers shot more than a dozen dead. Similar demonstrations erupted in Lebanon, home to large Palestinian refugee camps.

It's unclear how the Palestinian Authority could stop that from happening again, as the West Bank does not border on either Syria or Lebanon.

"Any violence would ... open the way for chaos again," Dameri warned.

A wild card in the deck is Gaza, run by the Islamic militant Hamas, not the Palestinian Authority. Hamas is disdainful of the U.N. initiative and is seen unlikely to organize protests to support it, but if violence erupts in the West Bank, Gaza could be expected to follow.

Israel opposes the U.N. recognition drive and insists, along with the U.S. and many European countries, that the only way to set up a Palestinian state is through negotiations.

Israeli officials disagree over what might happen in September. One study said the rallies will likely be peaceful, but Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has predicted "unprecedented violence."

Even the study forecasting peaceful demos recommended calling up Israeli army reservists — just in case.

Israel's concern is that a single incident — a Palestinian throwing a firebomb or an Israeli soldier killing a demonstrator — could trigger a widespread eruption.

Two Palestinian uprisings against Israeli occupation — the first beginning in 1987 and the second in 2000, each lasting about six years — took thousands of lives, mostly on the Palestinian side, while also traumatizing Israel with bombings and suicide attacks.

Looking back, Dameri expressed a view widely held by Palestinians today — they gained little from the uprisings, while Israel lost little. "The conclusion we drew from the previous uprising is that violence serves the Israeli interest, not our interests," he said.

Palestinian analyst Hani Masri said people learned from previous rounds of violence that "the sacrifices were much more than the gains" and that therefore, there wouldn't be a third uprising.

Many Palestinians appear to agree.

Maraweh Shoman, 47, a car salesman in Ramallah, says life is not so bad now. "The changes in our life are good, we have security, the economic is thriving, so the only thing we can do is to wait until something changes."

Musaab Abu Hmeid, 22, who lives in the Amari refugee camp near Ramallah, held out little hope for change either from the U.N. move or the demonstrations.

"We have tried every thing, the U.N., negotiations, uprising, and nothing worked," Abu Hmeid said. "Nothing is going to change, neither in September nor in October."

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