RAMALLAH - The first day of demonstrations in support of the Palestinian Authority's bid for UN recognition of a Palestinian state ended yesterday with relatively few clashes and few injuries, to the satisfaction of both Israel and the Palestinians.
Cooperation between the Palestinian security forces and the Israel Defense Forces held up, and most of the demonstrations took place in the heart of Palestinian cities, without spilling over into parts of the West Bank where they would force encounters with IDF soldiers.
The only places where confrontations occurred were at the Qalandiyah checkpoint north of Jerusalem and in Hebron. Four Palestinians were wounded by rubber bullets during the clashes at Qalandiyah.
Though perhaps not as large as PA President Mahmoud Abbas would have liked, yesterday's demonstrations reflected Abbas' rising popularity in recent days. Many demonstrators voiced admiration for his refusal to cave in to American demands to drop the UN move.
Throughout the main cities, Abbas' picture was displayed prominently next to that of the late PA chairman Yasser Arafat. One such huge photo was displayed at Clock Square in Ramallah, where one of the demonstrations was held. The poster also carried a quote from Abbas, which read, "I'm going to the United Nations to demand my rights."
The Lovers Band, which from its name might sound like a young band appealing to preteen girls, is in fact a group of aging musicians that was founded in the early 1980s and is known for its patriotic songs. They performed at yesterday's rally wearing uniforms that resembled those worn by the PLO in south Lebanon, and some wore kaffiyehs around their necks.
Despite their stodgy appearance, they managed to whip up the crowd. The young people cheered them and even started to dance a wicked debka to the music.
Yet there was no getting around the fact that - PA police estimates notwithstanding - only about 10,000 people showed up for the rally, which had been planned for weeks. Given that schools, universities, government offices and large companies had shut down for the day to allow people to demonstrate, one would have expected a far larger number.
There could be many explanations for this, one of them being that although the people support Abbas' efforts at the United Nations, no one is sure exactly what will come of them.
Still, it's possible that tomorrow, when the rallies are scheduled to coincide with Abbas' address to the UN General Assembly, the crowds will be bigger.
But Abbas will face an almost certain letdown when he comes back without much to show for his efforts.
It's doubtful that the Security Council will even bring Palestinian statehood to a vote, and even if it does, and if the PA can somehow muster the nine-country majority needed to pass the resolution, the United States will veto it.
Abbas also received a stinging blow yesterday from U.S. President Barack Obama, whose speech at the United Nations was not to the Palestinians' liking, to say the least.
Yet the looming Israeli-American victory in the Security Council, coupled with the PA's inability to conscript as many supportive demonstrators as it would have liked, sounds a warning bell: If the PA suffers too great a failure on the diplomatic front, that could strengthen Hamas and increase its support in the territories.
This in turn could result in violent agitation against the PA and Israel, given the frozen peace negotiations and the West Bank's deteriorating economic situation after several years of growth and prosperity.
No one at the Ramallah rally sounded sure about what would happen "the morning after."
Yusuf, 91, and Jihad, 30, both from Tubas, offered conflicting opinions. Yusuf said that if the UN move turns out to be a dead end, there will be a revolt against the Israeli occupation. But Jihad didn't think anything would change.
"These celebrations are very nice, but what will happen afterward?" asked Ahmed, a shoe salesman. "Nobody really knows. Probably Abu Mazen [Abbas] will go back to negotiating with Israel. What else can he do?"
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