New York's Fifth Avenue was awash in the blue and white of the Israeli flag for Sunday's Celebrate Israel Parade, whose mood reflected rising tensions in the Mideast this year.
"We've always been saying, we're ready to negotiate," said Yuli Yoel Edelstein, Israel's minister of information and diaspora, and grand marshal of this year's march. "But the Palestinians have a unilateral approach; this is not the way you reach statehood."
The thousands of marchers who stepped off at 57th Street late Sunday morning included New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Rep. Jerrold Nadler and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, followed later by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Organizers say the annual parade, which started in 1964, is the largest in the world celebrating the founding of the Jewish state in 1948.
In recent months, "Arab Spring" uprisings and the formation of a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas dimmed hopes of renewed peace talks.
On Sunday, Israeli troops battled hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters who tried to burst across Syria's frontier with the Golan Heights, reportedly killing 20 people. Scores more were wounded in the second outbreak of deadly violence in the border area in less than a month.
"We must be conscious of what's going on overseas," said city Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who stood at the side of Fifth Avenue, overseeing a strong police presence that stretched to the end of the parade route at 79th Street.
"My job is to make sure everything goes well," the commissioner said.
Behind police barricades were thousands of observers, some carrying signs criticizing President Barack Obama's policy speech last month on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The president said Israel's boundaries before the 1967 Mideast war should be the starting point for negotiations on any future borders.
"The Palestinians should have some territory, but not the 1967 borders, which would make Israel indefensible," said one parade observer, Paul Abad, 22, a New York college student who said his father is Arabic from Cuba, and his mother a Jewish New Yorker.
He was wrapped in an Israeli flag, wearing a T-shirt that said, "Israel Defense Forces."
One Fifth Avenue sidewalk was filled with two groups of protesters who have appeared each year, both critical of Israel: anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox Jews who oppose Israel's existence, saying only the Messiah can establish a Jewish state; and supporters of a Palestinian state who hoisted their red, black, white and green flags.