Jailed Palestinian leader calls for protest

Thursday, July 21, 2011

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- An imprisoned Palestinian uprising leader held by Israel called Wednesday for "millions" of people to take to the streets in support of a Palestinian independence bid this fall -- a scenario that Israeli officials warn could spin into a new wave of violence.

With peace talks stalled since 2008, the Palestinians have said they will instead ask the United Nations to recognize their state during the General Assembly session in September.

In an effort to avert a showdown over the issue, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made his first Arab media appearance to appeal for a return to negotiations. He told Al-Arabiyah TV that he would be willing to travel to Ramallah in the West Bank, if needed, for face-to-face talks.

Netanyahu's interview and the appeal by imprisoned Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti illustrated the wide gap between the positions of the two sides.

Israel wants peace talks but refuses to stop West Bank settlement construction first and makes demands the Palestinians reject -- like recognizing Israel as a Jewish state and maintaining an Israeli military presence in the West Bank -- while the Palestinians appear to be giving up on negotiations.

Barghouti, the most prominent Palestinian prisoner held by Israel and a potential future presidential candidate, dictated the message to his lawyers during a recent visit to his cell, according to his wife Fadwa. It was published in Palestinian newspapers, and a copy was sent to The Associated Press.

He called on Palestinians in the occupied territories as well as those in other countries to "peacefully march in their millions during the week of voting in the U.N."

Barghouti, convicted on murder charges in 2002, is serving five life sentences for his role in fatal Palestinian attacks.

Israeli officials say neither Israel nor the Palestinians want renewed violence, but that even one individual -- a Palestinian rock thrower or an Israeli soldier who opens fire -- could set off an explosion.

Barghouti, 51, was a leader of a Palestinian uprising that began in 2000, during which a wave of suicide bombings rocked Israeli cities and killed more than 1,000 civilians. About 4,000 Palestinians were killed in clashes with Israeli forces during the violence, which lasted several years.

Palestinians say their first option is full recognition from the Security Council, but the U.S. is likely to veto that. Then they would turn to the General Assembly, where they have an assured majority, for nonmember state status.

The vote would be largely symbolic, but the Palestinians believe an international endorsement would put heavy pressure on Israel to withdraw from territories claimed by the Palestinians -- the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.

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