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Israeli forces on high alert as Palestine bids for UN membership

Israeli security forces are on high alert on the eve of a Palestinian bid for admission to membership in the United Nations.

The Israel Defence Forces and Border Police have given thousands of troops extensive new training in riot-control techniques.

The units have been issued a range of the latest riot-control weaponry. These include canons that can fire tear gas canisters a distance of 150 metres (more than twice the current range) and a caustic spray called "Skunk," the smell of which overwhelms those sprayed with it. They also have been supplied with a "Scream" system that emits a painfully loud sound.

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Some of the new equipment was put to use Wednesday in a clash with Palestinian youths in Kalandia, site of a major crossing point between Israel and the West Bank. That incident, which left five protesters injured, one of them seriously, was the exception to a generally peaceful day of Palestinian rallies in cities across the West Bank.

Indeed, security officials say they are not expecting violence from the Palestinian community, but must prepare for the worst, just in case.

Rather, IDF commanders say they believe that militant settlers in the West Bank are more likely to pose a challenge to security. Gangs of settler youths have attacked several Palestinian communities this month, desecrating mosques and burning olive groves and fields. They have even attacked an IDF base, damaging several vehicles.

Earlier this week, a few hundred settlers in three parts of the West Bank staged defiant marches near Palestinian communities. Protected at every turn by Israeli soldiers, the relatively small groups shouted their determination never to budge from their historic homeland.

"We're trying to prove that we're here to stay," said Hillel Rheinos, a rabbi from Yitzhar, a particularly militant settlement. "No Palestinian state is going to remove us."

While Israeli settlers are worked up, most Israelis remain calm; concerned but confident that the Palestinian bid will fail and nothing will change. Polls show the majority of Israelis don't believe a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is possible even in another 10 years.

"It is premature," said Lea Kochan, who came to Israel in the 1950s from Poland, referring to the Palestinians seeking statehood recognition. "I don't rule out the idea," said Ms. Kochan, a sociologist who lives in the affluent Tel Aviv district of Ramat Gan, "but their leadership today isn't strong enough."

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"I don't really care what they do," said Yossi Shabo, 43, who lives in Kiryat Ono, a middle-class neighbourhood on the eastern outskirts of Tel Aviv. "It won't make any difference."

"We don't have any contact with Arabs any more," Mr. Shabo said, alluding to the security barrier that keeps the populations largely apart. "It's not like it was 20 or 30 years ago when we had a lot to do with each other."

"When I was a boy," Mr. Shabo recalled fondly, "my father used to drive his old Mercedes to Tulkarm [a nearby Palestinian town in the West Bank]to get it serviced. We even used dentists over there," he said. "Everything was cheaper."

"There can never be peace with these people," said Yual Nachum, 52, a reserve officer in the IDF, visiting Tel Aviv from Haifa, referring to Palestinians. "They were stupid not to agree to the partition offered them in 1947," he said, referring to UN Resolution 181 that called for Palestine to be divided between independent Arab and Jewish states. "They don't want peace with us; they only want blood."

Although it's hard to find anyone in the general public who supports the Palestinian bid, the application for UN membership has won the support of dozens of Israel's leading intellectuals, and Israel Prize laureates.

A large group of them is to unveil Thursday a document declaring support for the declaration of a Palestinian state. They're doing this at the place where David Ben Gurion, in 1948, declared the state of Israel, based upon the UN offer of partition. At that time no one stepped forward to accept the other part of that plan – the creation of an Arab state in mandate Palestine – no one until now.

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About the Author
Global Affairs reporter

As Global Affairs Writer, Patrick Martin’s primary focus is on the turbulent Middle East, to which he travels regularly. He has twice been posted to the region – from 1991-95 and from 2008-12. More

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