Palestinian leader gets hero welcome after making UN bid

President Mahmoud Abbas received a hero’s welcome Sunday from thousands of cheering, flag-waving Palestinians, having made a bid for United Nations recognition that appears destined to fail but has allowed him to finally step out of the shadow of his iconic predecessor Yasser Arafat.

Palestinians dance and sing prior to the arrival of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the government compound

Palestinians dance and sing prior to the arrival of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the government compound

President Mahmoud Abbas received a hero’s welcome Sunday from thousands of cheering, flag-waving Palestinians, having made a bid for United Nations recognition that appears destined to fail but has allowed him to finally step out of the shadow of his iconic predecessor Yasser Arafat.

The crowd, many of them holding posters of Abbas, repeatedly chanted his name as he spoke. Abbas was uncharacteristically animated, shaking his hands, waving to the audience and charming the crowd with references to “my brothers and sisters.”

Abbas call Friday for the U.N. to recognize Palestinian independence has transformed him in the eyes of many Palestinians from grey bureaucrat to champion of their rights. Though Israel and the United States oppose the move and consider it a step back for long-stalled peace talks, it could help Abbas overcome internal struggles and gain the support he will need to get a deal through one day.

In a brief address outside his headquarters in Ramallah, Abbas told the crowd that a “Palestinian Spring” had been born, similar to the mass demonstrations sweeping the region in what has become known as the Arab Spring.

“We have told the world that there is the Arab Spring, but the Palestinian Spring is here,” he said. “A popular spring, a populist spring, a spring of peaceful struggle that will reach its goal.”

He cautioned 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.

The dynamic public appearance was a noticeable change for the 76-year-old Abbas, who was elected shortly after Arafat’s death seven years ago. While Arafat was known for his trademark olive-green military garb and fiery speeches, Abbas favours suits and typically drones on in monotone.

In seeking U.N. recognition, Abbas “moved the feelings and emotions of the ordinary Palestinian,” said Mahdi Abdul-Hadi, a respected Palestinian academic in Jerusalem.

“He gave the people national pride after they were denied it.”

Abbas’ calls for nonviolence and his successes in restoring law and order to the West Bank have won him respect in Israel and abroad. But at home, he is often seen as weak and ineffectual in his dealings with Israel and the rival Hamas movement, which seized control of the Gaza Strip from his forces in 2007.

Abdul-Hadi said that at the end of a long career, Abbas is thinking about his legacy and wants to be remembered as the man who led his people to independence. He said it was no accident that on Sunday, Abbas delivered his speech outside the memorial where Arafat is buried.

Abbas has asked the U.N. Security Council to recognize an independent Palestine in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip — areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war. Some 500,000 Jewish settlers now live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005.

Abbas is turning to the United Nations in frustration after nearly two decades of unsuccessful peace efforts that were derailed at various times by violence, indecision and intransigence. Abbas says he will return to the negotiating table only if Israel halts settlement construction and accepts the pre-1967 lines as the basis for talks.

Israel and the U.S. oppose the U.N. bid, saying there is no substitute for direct negotiations. But with Israel continuing to build settlements, Abbas says there is no point in talking.

It is unclear what the U.N. application will actually accomplish.

The U.S., as a member of the Security Council, has already promised to veto the request if the Palestinians can muster the nine votes needed for passage — which itself is far from certain. If that happens, the Palestinians say they will seek enhanced observer status from the General Assembly, as a “nonmember state.”

Passage is virtually guaranteed, but this would be largely symbolic.

The Palestinians acknowledge that any victory at the U.N. will not change the situation on the ground. But they believe an international stamp of approval of a Palestine in the 1967 lines would bolster their negotiating position in the future.

The issue is likely to face weeks, perhaps months, of diplomatic wrangling.

In the meantime, the effort is likely to continue to bolster Abbas’ standing at home.

Jamil Rabah, an independent West Bank pollster, said surveys consistently show Abbas to be the most trusted Palestinian leader, with 35 per cent support, well ahead of his prime minister, Salam Fayyad, and the leader of the Hamas government in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh.

He thinks that Abbas’ speech Friday at the U.N. will only increase that number.

“It seems his popularity is rising,” he said. “The steps he is taking indicate he is brave and strong. They used to say he was an American puppet, and he is showing he is not a puppet.”

Increased support could bolster Abbas in his dealings with Hamas. The sides agreed to reconcile in May, but those efforts have deadlocked. Hamas hasn’t reacted publicly to Abbas’ U.N. speech.

It might also enable him — if peace talks do somehow resume — to more easily rally public support to conduct peace talks that would inevitably include concessions.

Already, the U.N. gambit seems to be increasing his standing in the wider Arab world.

“I have attended all the U.N. General Assembly meetings for the past 33 years but I have never heard clapping that lasted more than or higher than that given to President Mahmoud Abbas, which means Palestine,” wrote Jihad al-Khazen, a veteran columnist in the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper.

The international community, meanwhile, is continuing to search for a formula to bring Israel and the Palestinians back to negotiations.

The Quartet of Mideast mediators — the U.S., European Union, Russia and U.N. — on Friday issued a statement calling for a resumption of peace talks without preconditions and a target for a final agreement by the end of 2012.

Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said Sunday that his government should accept the Quartet proposal. But Abbas signalled it was a nonstarter as long as it doesn’t include a settlement freeze.

“We will not accept anything but … a halt settlement construction completely,” he said.

Amid the impasse, both Israeli and Palestinian officials have expressed fears that the tensions could explode into violence. One Palestinian was killed in the West Bank on Friday after a clash between settlers and villagers.

On Sunday, residents in the same village, Qusra, found 400 olive trees uprooted or destroyed. They blamed residents of a nearby hardline settlement.

Farmer Ayman Odeh said the trees were laden with ripe olives — an important cash crop for the village. “Imagine how long we worked on those trees, to see them broken now,” Odeh said.

Extremist settlers frequently destroy Palestinian-owned olive trees to protest what they feel is unfair treatment by the Israeli government.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Whistle Stop Cafe owner Christopher Scott and his sister Melodie pose for a photo at the Mirror restaurant. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Alberta Health Services delivers ‘closure order’ to Mirror restaurant

Alberta Health Services says it has delivered a closure order to a… Continue reading

Flags bearers hold the Canadian flag high during the Flags of Remembrance ceremony in Sylvan Lake in this October file photo. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
New project to pay tribute to Canadians killed in Afghanistan

Flags of Remembrance scheduled for Sept. 11

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Alberta vaccine rollout expanding to front-line health-care workers

More than 240,000 eligible health-care workers can begin booking vaccine appointments starting… Continue reading

File photo
The Red Deer Rebels will have three new assistant coaches when the WHL regular season starts on Friday. Brad Flynn (left), will be on the bench alongside fellow assistant Ryan Colville (right) head coach Brent Sutter (middle). (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Sutter steps down as Red Deer Rebels head coach

Red Deer Rebels Owner, GM and head coach Brent Sutter has stepped… Continue reading

Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan is among those who have signed an open letter criticizing the government’s return to stricter health measures. (Advocate file photo).
Updated: Kenney tells UCP caucus COVID-19 dissent OK, breaking health rules means expulsion

15 MLAs released letter on Wednesday critical of new health restrictions

Calgary Flames' Johnny Gaudreau, second from left, celebrates his goal with teammates, from left to right, Matthew Tkachuk, Noah Hanifin and Rasmus Andersson, of Sweden, during second period NHL hockey action against the Edmonton Oilers, in Calgary, Alta., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Larry MacDougal
Jacob Markstrom earns shutout as Flames blank Oilers 5-0 in Battle of Alberta

CALGARY — It took Sean Monahan breaking out of his goal-scoring slump… Continue reading

B.C. Premier John Horgan responds to questions during a postelection news conference in Vancouver, on Sunday, October 25, 2020. British Columbia's opposition Liberals and Greens acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented huge challenges for Horgan's government, but they say Monday's throne speech must outline a coherent plan for the province's economic, health, social and environmental future. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s NDP to bring in throne speech in B.C., Opposition wants coherent plan

VICTORIA — British Columbia’s opposition parties acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented… Continue reading

A grizzly bear walks on a treadmill as Dr. Charles Robbins, right, offers treats as rewards at Washington State University's Bear Research, Education, and Conservation Center in this undated handout photo. Grizzly bears seem to favour gently sloping or flat trails like those commonly used by people, which can affect land management practices in wild areas, says an expert who has written a paper on their travel patterns. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Anthony Carnahan *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Grizzly bears prefer walking on gentle slopes at a leisurely pace like humans: study

VANCOUVER — Grizzly bears seem to favour gently sloping or flat trails… Continue reading

FILE - In this July 27, 2020, file photo, nurse Kathe Olmstead prepares a shot that is part of a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., in Binghamton, N.Y. Moderna said Monday, Nov. 16, 2020, its COVID-19 shot provides strong protection against the coronavirus that's surging in the U.S. and around the world. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink, File)
The COVID-19 wasteland: searching for clues to the pandemic in the sewers

OTTAWA — When Ottawa Public Health officials are trying to decide whether… Continue reading

Researchers look over a map aboard the Finnish icebreaker MSV Nordica as it sets sail in the North Pacific Ocean toward the Bering Strait to traverse the Arctic's Northwest Passage on July 6, 2017. The Canadian government wants more study on the impacts of banning heavy fuel oil in the Arctic before it signs on to an international agreement to do so. It has been 16 months since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and then U.S. President Barack Obama jointly committed to phase down the use of heavy fuel oils in the Arctic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, David Goldman
‘You cannot claim any more:’ Russia seeks bigger piece of Arctic Ocean seabed

IQALUIT, Nunavut — Russia wants to stretch out imaginary lines on the… Continue reading

The Queen, centre, Prince Philip, right, and Princess Anne relax as they sail to Victoria, B.C., on May 3, 1971 accompanied out of Vancouver harbour by numerous small craft. Prince Philip, the Queen's husband of more than 70 years, passed away at Windsor Castle on Friday, Buckingham Palace announced. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Bill Croke
Andrew: Philip’s death has left ‘huge void’ in queen’s life

LONDON — The death of Prince Philip has left a “huge void”… Continue reading

A medical staffer works with test systems for the diagnosis of coronavirus, at the Krasnodar Center for Hygiene and Epidemiology microbiology lab in Krasnodar, Russia, Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020. Russia has closed its land border with China and suspended most train traffic between the countries. (AP Photo)
Official: Chinese vaccines’ effectiveness low

BEIJING — In a rare admission of the weakness of Chinese coronavirus… Continue reading

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau watches a speaker appear by videoconference during a news conference in Ottawa, Friday, April 9, 2021. Grassroots Liberals have overwhelmingly endorsed a resolution calling on the federal government to develop and implement a universal basic income — despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's apparent lack of enthusiasm for the idea. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau winds up Liberal convention with election campaign-style speech

OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau wound up a three-day Liberal convention Saturday with… Continue reading

Most Read