Shatha Yaish, AFP
Last updated: 25 September, 2011

Abbas rules out talks without settlement halt

Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas on Sunday ruled out new talks without a “complete halt” to Israeli settlement building, appearing to reject a proposal from the peacemaking Quartet.

“There will be no negotiations without international legitimacy and a complete halt to settlements,” he told the cheering crowds that had gathered at his Ramallah headquarters to welcome him back from the United Nations.

The massive turnout underscored the sudden surge of popularity Abbas is enjoying in the wake of his request that the UN admit a state of Palestine as a full member.

But his comments appeared to be a rejection of a proposal for new peace talks offered by the Quartet on Friday, shortly after Abbas submitted the UN membership bid on Friday.

The group, comprising the United States, United Nations, Europe and Russia, called for talks to begin within a month, and for a final deal to be reached before the end of 2012.

But they made no explicit reference to a halt of Israeli settlement construction, or clear parameters for the talks, both of which the Palestinians have said are key preconditions for their return to the negotiating table.

In Washington, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netayahu told NBC television’s “Meet the Press” programme that the Palestinians wanted a state “without giving Israel peace, or giving Israel peace and security.”

Netanyahu said he had this advice for Abbas: “If you want to get to peace, put all your preconditions to the side.”

In Ramallah, Abbas arrived directly at the Muqataa, his presidential compound, which was packed to capacity for a welcome party in his honour.

He 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.”

“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.”