4:31pm

Tue June 21, 2011
Middle East

Palestinians Plan Trappings Of A State Before U.N. Bid

Peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians are at a standstill. Palestinians say they will now take their drive for statehood to the United Nations this September.

Israel says the move violates previous agreements and is a dangerous act of unilateralism.

But on the ground, Palestinians say some of the trappings of a state are being put in place.

Using A Stamp To Send A Message

For the past month, Palestinian artist Khaled Jarrar has been coming to Ramallah's central bus station to greet foreign visitors to the Palestinian territories.

"Officially you are welcome in Palestine," he says on a recent sultry afternoon.

As visitors step down from the tangle of buses, he offers to emboss their passports with an unofficial entry stamp of his own design that reads "state of Palestine."

"I am an artist and I believe in my right as a human being to say for everybody that we exist, so this is my message," Jarrar says.

Officially, Israel controls the borders here — visitors come in on their already-issued Israeli visas.

But inspired by the announcement of the possible Palestinian push at the United Nations for recognition, Jarrar hopes his stamp will remind people that this is a nation waiting to be born. He says Palestinians have been encouraging.

"They love it and there are many, many supporters for this idea," he says.

A United Nations Bid

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is behind the drive at the U.N., though Palestinians are still mulling over what exactly they will ask for.

The Palestinians could simply seek U.N. membership as the state of Palestine, which would very likely be approved in the General Assembly. Or they could seek full, official recognition in the Security Council — a move that would almost certainly be vetoed by the United States.

Hosam Zumlot, an official with the West Bank's ruling party Fatah, says peace talks are at a standstill at the moment and the U.N. bid will push the negotiations forward.

"How do you undo the past? How do you start afresh?" he says. "By insuring that Israel understands clearly what the international community means. Such a resolution, such an admission, will send a clear message to Israel that the international community is really serious about the two-state solution. It's not just bluffing."

If it happens, he says, it will be "a moral, legal and political transformation."

'It Can Backfire'

That's exactly what worries Israel, which has launched a diplomatic offensive. It hopes to persuade countries to vote against the Palestinian bid, arguing it imperils the peace process.

"A Palestinian state can only emerge out of a negotiation, an agreement," says Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry. "There is no way a country, a state, can be imposed from the outside. It doesn't work. This, in turn, will create a lot of frustration on the Palestinian side and it can backfire."

Palmor warns that dashed Palestinian expectations that U.N. recognition will lead to tangible change on the ground could lead to violence.

"They are not telling their own people that this will bring them nothing, and finally people will be frustrated ... and this can explode at any time," he says.

But back in Ramallah, the mood is far more optimistic. The U.N. bid is seen as the culmination of a two-year plan put in place by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to have a Palestinian state in practice if not in name. Already a new currency is being designed along with passports, identity cards and license plates for cars.

At the Palestinian post office, Acting General Director Fathi Shbak says this week the Palestinian postal authority signed a deal to have all its overseas deliveries go through Jordan instead of Israel. The postal authority is also instituting a system of ZIP codes and has refurbished offices around the West Bank.

The new logo of the Palestine post? "We Emerge Again."

He says the changes have been directly ordered by the Palestinian government so that the day an independent country is announced they are ready.

It's also inspired Shbak to design a stamp only to be issued when Palestine gains recognition at the United Nations. For now, Shbak says he's keeping the details secret, but he hopes it will be released in September.

"We're not asking for the sky," he says. "Just for our country to be recognized with its borders."

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

We turn now to stalled peace talks in the Middle East. Palestinians say they will plead their case for statehood to the United Nations this September. Israel says that would violate previous agreements and calls it a dangerous act of unilateralism.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports from the Palestinian city of Ramallah, where some of the trappings of a state are already being put in place.

(Soundbite of vehicles)

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's a sultry afternoon at the Ramallah central bus station. And for the past month, Palestinian artist Khaled Jarrar has been coming here to greet foreign visitors to the Palestinian territories.

Mr. KHALED JARRAR (Artist): Officially, you are welcome in Palestine.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: As they step down from the tangle of buses, he offers to emboss their passports with an unofficial entry stamp of his own design that reads: State of Palestine.

Mr. JARRAR: I am an artist here. And I believe in my right, as a human being, to say for everybody that we are exist. So this is my message.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Officially, Israel controls the borders here. Visitors come in on their already-issued Israeli visas. But inspired by the announcement of the possible Palestinian push at the United Nations for recognition in September, Jarrar hopes his stamp will remind people that this is a nation waiting to be born. He says Palestinians have been encouraging.

Mr. JARRAR: They love it. And there is many, many supporters for this idea.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is behind the drive at the U.N., though Palestinians are still mulling over exactly what they'll ask for. The Palestinians could simply seek U.N. membership as the state of Palestine, which would likely be approved in the General Assembly. Or they could seek full, official recognition in the Security Council - a move that would almost certainly be vetoed by the United States.

Hosam Zumlot is an official with the West Bank's ruling Fatah Party. He says peace talks are at a standstill at the moment and he claims the U.N. bid will push negotiations forward.

Dr. HOSAM ZUMLOT (Foreign Relations Commission, Fatah Party): So how do you undo the past, how do you start afresh? By ensuring that Israel understands clearly what the international community means. Such a resolution, such an admission will send a clear message to Israel that the international community is really serious about the two-state solution - its not just bluffing.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says if it happens it will be a, quote, moral, legal and political transformation.

That's exactly, though, what worries Israel, which has launched a diplomatic offensive. It hopes to persuade countries to vote against the Palestinian bid, arguing it imperils the peace process.

Yigal Palmor is a spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry.

Mr. YIGAL PALMOR (Spokesman, Foreign Ministry, Israel): A Palestinian state can only emerge out of a negotiation and an agreement. There is no way a country, a state, can be imposed from the outside. It doesn't work. This, in turn, will create a lot of frustration on the Palestinian side and it can backfire.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Palmor warns that dashed Palestinian expectations that U.N. recognition will lead to tangible change on the ground could lead to violence.

Mr. PALMOR: They're not telling their own people that this will bring them nothing. And finally, people will be frustrated and this can explode at any time.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But back in Ramallah, the mood is far more optimistic. The U.N. bid is seen as the culmination of a two-year plan put in place by Palestinian Prime Minister Sallam Fayyad, to have a Palestinian State in practice if not in name. Already, a new currency is being designed along with passports, identity cards and license plates for cars.

Mr. FATHI SHBAK (Acting General Director, Palestinian Postal Authority): Postcard with France...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And at the Palestinian Post Office, Acting General Director Fathi Shbak says this week the Palestinian Postal Authority signed a deal to have all its overseas deliveries go through Jordan instead of Israel, for the first time. The Postal Authority is also instituting a system of zip codes and has refurbished offices around the West Bank. The new logo of the Palestine post: We Emerge Again.

Mr. SHBAK: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says the changes have been directly ordered by the Palestinian government so that the day they announce an independent country, we are ready, he says.

It's also inspired Shbak to design a stamp only to be issued when Palestine gains recognition at the United Nations. For now, Shbak says he's keeping the details secret but he hopes it will be released in September.

Mr. SHBAK: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We're not asking for the sky, he says, just for our country to be recognized.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.