A cheering crowd of thousands welcomes Abbas home
"Our international diplomatic resistance has begun," Abbas says
Israel's foreign minister says the Quartet's call for new talks is "very positive"
The Quartet offer calls for the Israelis and the Palestinians to meet within one month
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas stood before a cheering crowd Sunday upon his return from the U.N. General Assembly, where he launched a controversial bid for Palestinian statehood.
“In front of the world I have abided by your wishes and ambitions,” Abbas told the thousands who gathered at the Mukataa compound in Ramallah, in the West Bank.
“Our international diplomatic resistance has begun and we have a long road ahead,” he said. “We must know with certainty that there are those who will punish us. There are those who will deny us justice and deny what is right but we will stand up to them.”
He added, “The world has watched us and knows we are a civilized people that simply calls for its rights.”
People in the crowd held banners saying, “We are strong with you,” “You are big with the people behind you,” and “You are the source of our pride.” Others held large photos of Abbas or waved Palestinian flags.
While Fatah – Abbas’ party – controls the West Bank, Gaza is controlled by Hamas.
The celebration came as Israel’s foreign minister expressed support for the Middle East Quartet’s call for Israel and the Palestinians to meet within one month to agree on an agenda for new peace talks, with a goal of reaching a deal by the end of 2012.
“We need to accept because there is one very positive thing there – starting negotiations without prior conditions. We have been calling for this for two and a half years now,” Avigdor Liberman told Israel radio on Sunday.
However, Abbas told the crowd Sunday that negotiations cannot commence without a halt to construction of Israeli settlements.
“We have ascertained to all that we want to achieve your rights in a peaceful way through negotiations but not just any negotiations,” Abbas said. “There will be no negotiations without international legitimacy and a complete halt to settlements.”
The Quartet is composed of the United States, the United Nations, Russia and the European Union.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki said Saturday that the Quartet guideline could not be accepted, as it was “short of meeting Palestinian expectations.” Malki stressed that the offer failed to address the issue of Israeli settlements and the 1967 borders.
Friday’s Quartet statement did not mention the West Bank settlements. It called on the parties to “refrain from provocative actions if negotiations are to be effective.”
Israel’s demand for Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state was also not included. The Quartet repeated its call for both parties to follow obligations laid out in a 2003 so-called “roadmap” for peace.
Palestinian demand for complete halt of construction in the settlements as a condition for the resumption of talks has been the main obstacle between the parties over the past year.
At the United Nations on Friday, Abbas put forth his historic request for full U.N. membership, a move Israel called premature without direct talks that address longstanding security concerns. The measure prompted the Quartet to issue its call for renewed talks.
Previous negotiations broke down last year. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Palestinians “are trying to get away without negotiation” by going to the United Nations, “to get a state to continue the conflict with Israel rather than end it.”
Speaking on the U.S. television network NBC’s “Meet the Press” program, he said the Palestinians need to drop their preconditions and rejoin direct talks toward resolving the decades-old conflict.
“What they are trying to do in the United Nations is get a state without peace or giving Israel peace and security. That is wrong. That should not succeed. That should fail,” Netanyahu said. “What should succeed is for them to sit down and negotiate with us to get two states for two people, a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes a Jewish state.”
But Hanan Ashrawi, a veteran Palestinian legislator and Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee member, said the Palestinians are “talked out.” Meanwhile, she said, Netanyahu’s government has been undermining peace efforts by building new settlements in the West Bank and building more Israeli housing in east Jerusalem.
“If you stop these measures, and if you commit to the two-state solution, really, and to international law, then there’s a reason to talk,” Ashrawi told reporters in Washington. “But if you just want to talk as a cover in order to carry out these actions, then these talks will be counterproductive and actually extremely dangerous.”