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Palestinian Leader Poised For Big Moment At U.N. Amid Pressure Back At Home


Tomorrow in New York, the Palestinian flag will be raised outside the headquarters of the United Nations for the first time. It's a big moment for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He'll also be addressing the U.N. General Assembly. As NPR's Emily Harris reports from Jerusalem, this all comes as there are increasing calls back home for him to step down.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: The Palestinian flag is going up outside the U.N. tomorrow because Abbas scored a big victory there three years ago.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Those in favor of draft resolution A/67.

HARRIS: A resolution to recognize Palestine as a state passed the U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly in November 2012.


HARRIS: The specific language made it a non-member observer state at the U.N. Israel called the effort one-sided symbolism that set back the pursuit of peace. A follow-up resolution last month allowed the Palestinian flag to be raised at U.N. headquarters. But these victories for Abbas can't hide the pressure he's facing at home.

HANAN ASHRAWI: We have we have serious divisions internally.

HARRIS: That’s Hanan Ashrawi, part of the Palestinian leadership. She says Fatah, Abbas's party, has not delivered a real Palestinian state.

ASHRAWI: The Fatah agenda, the PLO agenda of the two-state solution, negotiated settlement has failed.

HARRIS: She blames Israeli policies and the U.S. for not pushing Israel to compromise in ways that could restart talks on Palestinian statehood. But some of the unhappiness on the Palestinian street is connected with Abbas working with Israel.

Last week, Palestinian police in the Palestinian town of Bethlehem were caught on video beating up two young Palestinian men. It was during a protest against perceived Israeli provocations at the Jerusalem site holy to both Muslims and Jews. No Israeli soldiers were around when, but Ahmad Hamamra, who got his arm broken, says Abbas's Palestinian police were doing dirty work for Israel. It's officially called security coordination. Hamamra calls a betrayal.

AHMAD HAMAMRA: (Through interpreter) It is collaboration with the enemy. It is against Palestinian morals and principles to coordinate with Israel.

HARRIS: A pollster, who last week found two-thirds of Palestinians want Abbas to resign, cited anger with Palestinian security forces as one possible factor. Former Palestinian Minister Ashraf Ajrami says Abbas knows he's losing popularity.

ASHRAF AJRAMI: It is obvious for President Mahmoud Abbas that people want to see a change. Maybe it is one of the reasons that President Mahmoud Abbas all the time threatens to resign.

HARRIS: Abbas has repeatedly threatened to resign as president of the Palestinian Authority. Earlier this month, the 80-year-old leader called a special meeting to quit another key leadership post in the PLO, the umbrella organization that still negotiates on behalf of the Palestinian people. But then Abbas backtracked. Palestinian analyst Ghassan Khatib says Palestinian political parties fought about how even to organize the meeting.

GHASSAN KHATIB: I think that this revealed serious problems and difficulties inside these factions. It seems that these factions are becoming too rusty to do anything.

HARRIS: Abbas had promised a bombshell at his speech tomorrow at the U.N., suggesting he might announce the end of certain agreements with Israel. His advisers now indicate he'll back off that too, and likely stick with general criticisms of Israel and the West for letting the peace process lag. Emily Harris, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

International Correspondent Emily Harris is based in Jerusalem as part of NPR's Mideast team. Her post covers news related to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. She began this role in March of 2013.
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