Hero's welcome for Abbas in West Bank


PALESTINIAN PRESIDENT Mahmoud Abbas was cheered by thousands of flag-waving West Bankers who greeted him on his triumphant return from the UN General Assembly yesterday.

Mr Abbas told the throng that a “Palestinian spring” had begun to flower following Friday’s submission to the General Assembly of the Palestinian bid for full state UN membership.

He said Palestinians faced a “spring of peaceful struggle” that would enable them to secure an “independent state with [East] Jerusalem as its capital”. He also warned against “those who would raise obstacles”, saying “they will fall and we will reach our goal”.

In an interview published in Arabic daily Al-Sharq al-Awsat, Mr Abbas said Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu was the most inflexible Israeli leader he had encountered. Mr Netanyahu’s “ideological positions do not allow him to advance” the peace process, he said, adding that negotiations had been possible with the previous five Israeli leaders.

He refused to comment on the bid by the Quartet – comprising the UN, US, EU and Russia – to relaunch direct talks but said: “The Palestinians cannot negotiate any proposal that is not based on 1967 borders and does not ensure a settlement freeze in the West Bank.”

Asked about the next Palestinian move, he said all options were on the table, including an appeal to the UN General Assembly for recognition of a Palestinian state in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, and the upgrading of its status to “non-member state”.

In a statement issued on Friday, the Quartet said comprehensive proposals on territory and security should be put forward within three months and there should be substantial progress towards agreement on these issues within six months. December 2012 was given as a deadline for a final agreement.

Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman has accepted the Quartet plan, while Mr Netanyahu has called for unconditional negotiations.

The UN Security Council is set to begin discussions today on the Palestinian application for full UN membership. The Palestinians want deliberations concluded within a fortnight.

While a majority of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza support Mr Abbas’s appeal to the General Assembly, Hamas, which rules Gaza, said his effort failed to meet Palestinian aspirations. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said that, by seeking UN membership for a Palestinian state in 22 per cent of geographic Palestine and by recognising Israel, Mr Abbas was “diminishing” Palestinian rights.

He urged Mr Abbas “to go back to comprehensive national dialogue, achieve reconciliation and unite the Palestinians”.

Rivals Hamas and Fatah, led by Mr Abbas, signed a reconciliation deal in May but its implementation has been postponed repeatedly.

Dr Mahdi Abdul Hadi, head of a Palestinian think tank in East Jerusalem, castigated Hamas’s “immature” response: “Hamas has not kept up with events. It is a prisoner of factionalism and hostile relations with Abbas.”

The Damascus-based Hamas leadership is dependent on support from the Syrian government, said Dr Abdul Hadi, speaking for many Palestinians who are sharply critical of the Fatah-led government and of Hamas.

He said Mr Abbas, “a grey man”, had “become a real boss . . . He has told Netanyahu No, and [US president Barack] Obama No.

“If he persists in his mission [to obtain UN recognition of a Palestinian state], Abbas will open a new chapter in the Palestinian struggle for independence and assume new responsibilities.”

Dr Abdul Hadi said Mr Abbas knew the UN approach was “just a game. He will go all the way to secure recognition of a Palestinian state in the General Assembly. He cannot afford but to carry on with his mission. He has his legacy to consider. After 20 years of fruitless talks, Abu Mazen [Mr Abbas] is rising to to the challenge.”

Mr Lieberman warned that if the UN approved the Palestinian application for statehood, there would be “tough repercussions”, without specifying what actions Israel would take.

Meanwhile, the Israeli army turned back buses carrying Palestinians from the northern West Bank to Ramallah to welcome Mr Abbas. There have also been clashes in the East Jerusalem Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan, where Israeli settlers have been taking over Palestinian homes and land, as well as other traditional flashpoints in the West Bank.