RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — The Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has returned home to a hero’s welcome after winning a resounding endorsement for Palestinian independence at the United Nations.
Some 5,000 people thronged a square Sunday outside Abbas’ government headquarters in the West Bank. Many hoisted Palestinian flags and balloons in the colors of the flag.
Abbas told the crowd that “we now have a state” and that “the world has said loudly, ‘yes to the state of Palestine.’”
The U.N. decision to recognize Palestine as a nonmember observer state does not change the situation on the ground.
The Palestinians believe the strong endorsement will boost their leverage in future peace talks.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.
Israel on Sunday roundly rejected the United Nations’ endorsement of an independent state of Palestine, and announced it would withhold more than $100 million owed to the Palestinians in retaliation for their successful statehood bid.
It was the second act of reprisal since the U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to support the Palestinians’ statehood initiative. Less than 24 hours later, Israel announced it would start drawing up plans to build thousands of settlement homes, including the first-ever residential developments on an ultra-sensitive piece of real estate near Jerusalem.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared the statehood campaign, led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, as “a gross violation of the agreements signed with the State of Israel.”
“Accordingly, the government of Israel rejects the U.N General Assembly decision,” he said. Israel, backed by the U.S., campaigned against the statehood measure, arguing that only negotiations can deliver a Palestinian state.
The U.N. resolution spelled out the borders of a future Palestine, endorsing the Palestinian position that it comprise the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war. Israel rejects a full pullback to its 1967 lines, and says the resolution is a way to bypass border negotiations.
In Sunday’s response, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said the government would also strike at the Palestinians’ pocketbook, by withholding taxes and customs collected from Palestinian laborers and businesses on behalf of Abbas’ cash-strapped Palestinian Authority, which led the statehood campaign.
The money will be used to help pay off the authority’s debts to Israel, including $200 million owed to the state-run Israel Electric Corp., government officials said. This month, more than $100 million was to have been transferred; Steinitz said Israel would decide later whether to withhold future transfers as well.
The General Assembly decision late Thursday to accept “Palestine” as a non-member observer state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza didn’t grant actual independence to the 4.3 million Palestinians living in those areas.
Israel remains an occupying force in the first two territories and continues to severely restrict access to Gaza, ruled by the Hamas militant group.
Nor does the vote plaster over the rift in the Palestinian leadership that has led to the emergence of dueling governments in the West Bank and Gaza.
But by sidestepping two decades of troubled negotiations — include the latest four-year impasse — and going straight to the U.N., Palestinians hope to redouble global pressure on Israel to negotiate the borders of a future Palestine.
Netanyahu sounded anything but bowed on Sunday.
“Today we are building and we will continue to build in Jerusalem and in all areas that appear on Israel’s map of strategic interests,” he told his Cabinet.
Half a million settlers currently live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, the result of a decades-long strategy aimed at blurring the borders between Israel and the occupied territories.
The U.N.’s endorsement of the Palestinians’ vision of their future state was a resounding condemnation of Israel’s settlement policies. Israel’s failure to rally any major European powers, including its closest allies, to its cause came as a stinging diplomatic blow.
Israel took little time to respond. Israel announced Friday that it would press ahead plans to build 3,000 housing units in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, the core of the Palestinians’ hoped-for state.
More worrisome for the Palestinians, it vowed to dust off a master plan to build 3,600 apartments and 10 hotels on the section of territory east of Jerusalem known as E1. The Palestinians have warned that such construction would kill any hope for the creation of a viable state of Palestine.
After the sacred city of Jerusalem, this stretch of territory is the most fought-over piece of territory in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Building there would sever the link between the West Bank and east Jerusalem, the sector of the holy city the Palestinians claim for a future capital, and cut off the northern part of the West Bank form its southern flank.
The announcement that Israel would forge ahead with construction plans also thrust Netanyahu into a new showdown with the Obama administration just days after the U.S. became the only world power to side with it in opposing the Palestinians’ statehood bid.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said these plans “set back the cause of a negotiated peace.”
Britain and France urged Israel to rescind the decision, and other European states denounced it.
The decision may be connected more to Israeli politics than an actual policy change. Netanyahu is up for re-election in Jan. 22 parliamentary elections and is eager to put on a strong face for the electorate. Actual construction could be years away, if it takes place at all.
“There is no decision to build,” Housing Minister Ariel Attias told Army Radio on Sunday. “There is a decision to plan. You can’t build an apartment without planning.”
New figures from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics showed that Netanyahu has actually slowed settlement construction over the past year.
The latest figures found that Israel began construction on 653 new settlement homes in the first nine months of 2012, down 26 percent from 886 housing starts during the same period a year earlier.
The anti-settlement Peace Now group said the figures were not precise because the bureau relies on reports from settlement leaders, who are not always timely and accurate. The bureau maintains its statistics take such things into account.
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Two-for-one for Everyone — West Wind Solano Twin Drive-In, Concord, Calif. This family-friendly attraction with several spots across the U.S. (including California, Nevada and Arizona) prides itself on offering first-run double features (save for premiere events) on the cheap — which is quite the deal, considering their 65-foot screens are among the biggest in the biz. And if you have great car speakers, even better: squawk boxes of old have been replaced with Dolby quality audio piped through your car’s FM stereo.
For the Four-legged Friendly — Warwick Drive-In, Warwick, N.Y. Northeast city slickers looking for a place to watch their favorite movie stars under the stars need only veer six miles east of Vernon, N.J. What began as a family affair in 1950 has since become a seasonal institution offering rural and urban (and pet!) audiences two movies for the price of one on any of its three giant screens.
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See Stars Collide — Ford-Wyoming Drive-In, Dearborn, Mich. Open year-round (unlike many of its surviving contemporaries), this five-screen staple of the Midwest known as the “largest drive-in in the world” plays host for up to 3,000 cars on any given night. And if the double-feature doesn’t hold your attention, relax; you’ve got the best (car)seat in the house for the occasional overhead meteor shower.
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A Hole (Lot of Fun) in One — Wellfleet Drive-In, Wellfleet, Mass.Built in 1957 and still offering original mono sound boxes for those looking for an authentic experience (or not, as FM stereo is available as well), the summer-exclusive theater hosts double features of first-runs on its giant 100’ x 44’ screen. Come for the movies, stay for the mini-golf and flea market (on select days).
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Go Big or Drive Home — Bengies Drive-In, Baltimore, Md. The only thing bigger than Bengies’ prolific history (57 years and going) is its main attraction — boasting the biggest theater screen in the U.S. at 6,240 square feet. That’s 52’ x 120’ of pure anamorphic presentation. Complementing its time capsule of a snack bar (unchanged since ’56), previews old and new occupy the venue’s old-timey intermissions between features.
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Proof That Film is Forever — Shankweilers, Orefield, Pa. While we’re on superlative street, consider stopping at this roadside treasure: America’s oldest drive-in. Operating since 1934, it may not have the frills and pony rides of nearby Becky’s Drive-In, but it’s defied hurricanes and the wear and tear of time. Worth the one-hour drive from Philly.
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The Gritty Hollywood Reboot — Corral Drive-In, Guymon, Okla. Like a slasher movie menace that died (several times) in the ’80s only to be rebooted years after, the long-vacant Corral Drive-In was resurrected and restored in 2009, providing big entertainment at a nominal fee. And if the $6 adult admission doesn’t make you feel like a kid again, the venue’s inflatable bouncers most definitely will.
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Hop the Healthy Highway — Delsea Drive-In, Vineland, N.J. Less than an hour’s trip from Atlantic City, New Jersey’s only drive-in offers the best of both worlds — old school aesthetic outfitted with modern tech and healthier food choices to boot. Open seasonally, with first features beginning around dusk.
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Bring Your Backyard to the Big Screen — Starlight Six Drive-In, Atlanta, Ga. As much a backdoor barbecue as it is a night out at the movies, this six-screen Atlanta drive-in encourages what most in the theater biz forbid: bringing your own food and grilling it. Those looking to add a hip twist of the theatrical to their Labor Day getaway need only stock the cooler and pack some brats or burgers for the Starlight’s annual “Drive-Invasion,” which features a hot-rod show, live music, and B-movies galore.
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And really, what better way is there to cruise the nostalgia highway of old Hollywood than in a MINI Roadster? Allowing all the headroom one needs to see the stars on the screen and those directly above, the 2013 convertible goes the distance where it counts — on the road (obviously), not to mention the discerning driver’s wallet. Never mind that its fun-size frame also makes motoring in and out of tight traffic all the more enjoyable (or parking in even tighter spots for cozy romantics all the more convenient).
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