After His Stint at UN, Abbas Is Politically Stronger Than Ever

All leaders of PLO and Fatah greet the new-old Palestinian 'hero' upon his return to Ramallah, shake his hand; many embrace him amid hopes for a Palestinian state.

Barak Ravid
Avi Issacharoff
Natasha Mosgovaya
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Barak Ravid
Avi Issacharoff
Natasha Mosgovaya

Thousands of cheering, flag-waving Palestinians gave Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas an enthusiastic welcome in Ramallah on Sunday, as he told them triumphantly that a "Palestinian spring" had been born following his speech to the United Nations last week.

The new-old Palestinian "hero" was greeted by all the leaders of the PLO and Fatah, who lined up to shake his hand. Many embraced him amid hopes for a Palestinian state.

Mahmoud Abbas speaking in Ramallah on Sunday. Credit: Fant

Hundreds of people held aloft Abbas's picture, captioned "You kept your promise," a reference to his promise to request that the Security Council recognize a Palestinian state.

"I went to the United Nations, taking with me your hopes and aspirations, your suffering and your vision of the future, and your need for a Palestinian state," Abbas told the crowd. "There is no doubt that we are strong and steadfast, because of our merits, our legitimacy and our determination ... Hold your heads high, you're Palestinians!"

He said he had told the world that just as there had been an "Arab spring, the Palestinian spring is here," he said. "A popular spring, a populist spring, a spring of peaceful struggle that will achieve its goal."

He warned that the Palestinians face a "long path" ahead.

"There are those who would put out obstacles ... but with your presence they will fall and we will reach our end," he said.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said he hoped "Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would not miss a chance to advance a settlement of two nations based on the Quartet's suggestion."

Netanyahu, meanwhile, flew out of New York Sunday and is due to land in Israel this afternoon. He will go from the airport to the Prime Minister's Office to receive the Trajtenberg Committee report containing proposals to advance social justice. He will host coalition members in his home tonight, and is expected to convene his forum of eight senior ministers on Tuesday.

Netanyahu made the rounds of America's Sunday morning television talk shows and also was interviewed by the BBC's Arabic service. In these interviews, he stressed the main points that he made in his UN speech on Friday.

Speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press," for example, Netanyahu stated both that he was "trying to move forward" the peace process through negotiations, and that the "core of the conflict" lies with the Palestinians' persistent refusal to accept Israel's existence.

When asked about threats facing Israel, Netanyahu said he is responsible for the "fate of the one and only Jewish state," and he seeks to "erect the wall against insatiable crocodile of Islamism, before it devours us for breakfast."

He told the NBC interviewer that he believed achieving an agreement by the end of 2012, as called for the a communique by the Quartet on the Middle East - the United States, European Union, Russia, and the United Nations - was "a realistic goal, assuming there is seriousness on both sides.

"The Palestinians are worthy of a state of their own," Netanyahu said. "I'm the man who can bring peace and recruit a lot of Israelis to support a peace agreement. Abu Mazen [Abbas] must understand that this is his opportunity."

He also expressed support for the Arab peace initiative, even though many in the Arab world no longer see it as relevant. He added that peace with Egypt must continue. "We don't want to go back to the days of war with Egypt," he said.

Abbas, meanwhile, repeated his traditional position that basically contravenes the Quartet's proposal to resume negotiations without preconditions, stating that the Palestinians would not agree to resume talks with Israel unless the latter stops construction in the settlements.

Abbas later laid a wreath on the grave of Yasser Arafat.

Despite Abbas's declarations about a Palestinian spring, it's doubtful that demonstrations in support of him or of the move at the United Nations will continue. Abbas started a round of deliberations on Sunday with his advisers regarding what the Palestinians' next move should be, but the PA will have to wait and see what will come out of the Security Council debate on the Palestinian request for full membership in the United Nations.

It was clear from his reception in Ramallah Sunday that his stint in New York has left him stronger politically than ever.

In Gaza Hamas arrested a restaurant owner who tried to broadcast Abbas's UN speech on Friday. The restaurant's television was turned to the broadcast when men wearing civilian clothes approached one of the owners, identified themselves as Hamas members, ordered him to stop the broadcast and arrested him.



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