Abbas rules out talks without settlement halt
RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories — The Palestinians will not hold peace talks without a “complete halt” to Israeli settlement building, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas told cheering crowds on Sunday.
“There will be no negotiations without international legitimacy and a complete halt to settlements,” he said in an address to thousands who gathered to welcome him back from his bid to secure full UN membership for a state of Palestine.
The comments appeared to be a rejection of a proposal for new talks from the international peacemaking Quartet, which on Friday proposed renewed negotiations but did not explicitly seek a settlement freeze.
Abbas told the crowds he had conveyed their dreams of statehood to the international community with his address to the UN General Assembly and formal submission of the membership bid.
“We went to the United Nations carrying your hopes, your dreams, your ambitions, your suffering, your vision and your need for an independent Palestinian state,” he said.
“I have no doubt that the whole free world from one end to the other received what we told them about you and your dreams with all due respect,” he added as the crowds chanted “The people want a Palestinian state.”
Abbas arrived in Ramallah from Amman, and was greeted by a presidential honour guard at his headquarters, known as the Muqataa.
He walked solemnly into the compound and went immediately to the grave of his predecessor Yasser Arafat where he laid a wreath before walking to a small stage to address the crowds, flanked by his prime minister Salam Fayyad.
“Brothers, there is no doubt that we are strong, strong in our rights, strong in our determination; our eyes, our minds and our culture are strong,” he said.
“Lift your heads up high, you are Palestinian!”
The crowds applauded wildly, waving the Palestinian flag and the yellow banner of Abbas’s Fatah party.
Thousands had begun gathering at the Muqataa several hours before Abbas arrived, responding to calls from local unions, the Fatah movement and the campaign that was organised to back the UN bid.
Buses laid on by different groups brought cheering Palestinians from cities including Hebron in the south and Jenin in the north, organisers said.
Ahead of Abbas’s arrival, Mohammed Amudi said he had come to show his support for the unassuming Palestinian leader.
“I came to the Muqataa to declare my support for Abu Mazen’s brave speech at the United Nations and his challenge to the United States,” he said, using Abbas’s popular nom de guerre.
Nearby, 71-year-old Abed Qader Mohammed sat holding a Palestinian flag.
“I came to show solidarity with Abu Mazen because I believe that his speech to the UN was not just his speech, but our speech,” he said.
“Abu Mazen did his job at the UN and put our demands on their table and I’m here at the Muqataa today to say to him: thank you.”