RAMALLAH President Mahmoud Abbas urged Palestinians Wednesday to step up peaceful protests against Israel, urging "popular resistance" inspired by the Arab Spring to back a diplomatic offensive at the United Nations.
Abbas, addressing a Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) meeting, reiterated his decision to seek full U.N. membership for a state of Palestine alongside Israel, a diplomatic move resulting from paralysis in the U.S.-backed peace process.
"In this coming period, we want mass action, organised and coordinated in every place," Abbas said. "This is a chance to raise our voices in front of the world and say that we want our rights."
Though the United States is expected to block their quest for a full seat, the Palestinians expect to secure at least an upgrade in their U.N. status during September's General Assembly meeting in New York.
Abbas's comments to the PLO central committee in Ramallah marked the first time he had openly urged popular activism in support of the initiative, echoing a call made last week by Marwan Barghouti, a leading Palestinian imprisoned in Israel.
Palestinian officials are describing the diplomatic initiative as part of a new approach to their struggle to create an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Israel, which occupied those territories in 1967, sees the move as part of Palestinian efforts to isolate it and has warned Abbas against unilateral action.
Israel is concerned that September could serve as a platform for protests inspired by Arab uprisings this year which have toppled leaders in Egypt and Tunisia and have challenged others in Syria, Yemen, Libya and Bahrain.
A military commander said last week Israel would reinforce its border defenses in anticipation of such protests.
Long an opponent of violence by Palestinians, Abbas has faced domestic criticism for appearing hesitant to support other forms of activism such as protests and marches, part of what Palestinians call "popular resistance."
"We support popular resistance," he said.
"DOES HE WANT THIS?"
He listed grievances including the expansion of Jewish settlements and the construction of Israel's West Bank barrier as reasons for wider activism.
"Every day, we face things that drive us to carry out popular resistance on a wide scale and not in one place," he said.
"I insist on popular resistance and I insist that it be unarmed popular resistance so that nobody misunderstands us. We are now inspired by the protests of the Arab Spring, all of which cry out 'peaceful', 'peaceful'," he said.
Hany al-Masri, a political analyst, said there were still question marks over whether Abbas was serious in his call. Abbas, 76, may still be nervous about the scope for protests to spiral out of control, he said.
"Does he want this, or is it just for consumption? This is the question," he said. Abbas's Fatah movement still has a support base capable of mobilizing for such protests, he said.
"If they want it, they can have it," he said.
The Palestinians' plan, as outlined by officials, is to submit an application for full membership to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, while also preparing a draft resolution for the General Assembly seeking an upgrade to "non-member state."
Palestine currently has the status of an observer.
While Palestinian officials expect U.S. opposition to torpedo their attempt to gain full member status, they anticipate winning enough support in the General Assembly to secure the status upgrade. Palestinian officials say that would bring benefits including full access to U.N. agencies.
(Editing by Paul Taylor)