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Palestinians, Israelis talk Palestinian statehood bid

From Kevin Flower, CNN
September 23, 2011 -- Updated 1347 GMT (2147 HKT)
  • Palestinian Authority is bidding for formal U.N. recognition of Palestinian statehood
  • CNN talks with average Palestinians and Israelis about what they think of the bid
  • A Palestinian refugee says he fears foreign aid will dry up if the bid is granted
  • An Israeli opposes the strategy, says Palestinians should coordinate with Israel

(CNN) -- In Bethlehem's Manger Square, on the streets of Tel Aviv, at the scenic Mount of Olives overlook, and in places all around the region, much of the conversation has revolved around one topic the last few weeks: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' intention to request formal recognition of statehood for Palestine at the United Nations General Assembly on Friday.

Opinions are not hard to find.

Palestinian Jamil Khosh manufactures and sells religious figurines carved from olive wood in Bethlehem's Manger Square. Khosh says he supports Abbas' move.

"I think it is the right time. We negotiated with Israelis for the last 16 or 17 years and we get nothing from them," he says.

He says that the political circumstances won't discourage tourists from visiting Bethlehem, a city of about 30,000 people in the central West Bank a few miles south of Jerusalem. Throngs come constantly to the city from around the globe, and tourism is the area's main source of revenue.

Palestinian statehood: View from Israel

Stone carver and fellow Palestinian Fawzi Nostas says he is just hoping for peace. "When we have peace, we have more tourism to Bethelehem. We have a stronger economy," he says, taking a break from refining a carving of a praying Mary.

"The peace is life," he says.

Not far from Manger Square sits a refugee camp called Aida, home to around 5,000 Palestinian refugees. A Palestinian tour guide takes a break from a tour with German tourists to offer his prediction -- he thinks Abbas' bid will fail.

"It will fail because the U.S. is waving with a veto," says the guide, who did not want his name used.

But, the tour guide says, the gesture of Abbas' request will be significant.

"This will show the whole world who is on our side, and who is on the other side," he tells CNN.

Aayed Abu Aker is one of the Aida refugees. His home stands in the shadow of Israel's nearby separation barrier. He fears that the current political strategy will delay the day the wall comes down and make life for him and his family only more difficult. Countries that funnel aid, like food and supplies, into camps may be less inclined to continue that effort, he fears.

"We as refugees depend on international support," he says. "I'm afraid the international support will stop."

Back in Bethlehem, Israeli Yehuda Abraham is giving a tour in English and German, telling stories from the Bible and sharing his thoughts about the Palestinian bid for U.N. recognition as a state.

"If they want to declare a Palestinian state, they are welcome," he says. "But I think it would be proper and right to do it in coordination with Israel and not against Israel."

His opinion is echoed on the streets of Tel Aviv, Israel's capital city. In the trendy Nahalot Binyamin neighborhood, where boutiques and cafes dot the streets, Simon Godlov serves Moroccan cuisine.

He says Palestinians have not been held accountable for violence against Israel over the years, and if they do become a state, that might change.

"I think if they declare a state, (the Palestinians) will have to take responsibility for what happens in the West Bank and Gaza Strip," he says. "They do (a) host of things to Israel (and) no one punishes them."

But the server says he doesn't expect change to happen. "Nothing will change much," he says. "A little noisier at the United Nations on the day (Abbas makes his request). ... But at the end of the day, they don't have a country until Israel gives them what they need, and I don't see that happening in the next five to 10 years."

At a nearby fabric store, proprietor Amir Ulman says the move for statehood foreshadows more violence. He believes that complete separation between Israelis and Palestinians is the only answer. Mixing them has only resulted in "60 years full of terror, full-on unharmonic life, and it will continue like that if we don't stop it," he says.

But Kalman Goldberg takes a more passive, philosophical stance.

The Israeli is a tour guide on the Mount of Olives, a mountain ridge in East Jerusalem that offers a postcard view of Jerusalem's Old City and is home to a Jewish cemetery with tens of thousands of graves.

"What will be the future?" Goldberg asks. "I can't tell you. A long time ago, some very wise Jews came out with the saying that since the destruction of the temple, you know it was here. Prophecy was given to infants and idiots and I am far away from being an infant.

"So sorry, can't prophesize. I just hope for the better."

Ashley Fantz, CNN

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