Thousands of Palestinians gathered to welcome President Mahmoud Abbas at his Ramallah headquarters on Sunday on his return from delivering Palestine’s bid to join the United Nations in New York.
After laying a wreath on the grave of his predecessor Yasser Arafat, Abbas told masses of flag-waving Palestinians: “The Palestinian spring is certainly underway, with the creation of an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital.”
He told the jubilant crowds: “Our international rally has begun. The journey is long and there are many obstacles, but with our people’s steadfastness, we will overcome these obstacles.”
The president told the rally that he made his plea at the UN on behalf of the Palestinian people.
“We asserted to everybody that we want to get our rights by peaceful means, by negotiations but not any negotiations. We will never agree on negotiations without legitimacy and without full cessation of settlement expansion.”
He ended his short address by telling the crowd: “Hold your heads high because you are Palestinians.”
Local unions, Abbas’ Fatah party, and the campaign that backed the membership bid called on Palestinians across the West Bank to travel to Ramallah to welcome the leader back.
Buses laid on by different groups were bringing thousands from cities including Hebron in the south and Jenin in the north, organizers said.
Mohammed Amudi, who was awaiting the president’s arrival with his young son, said he wanted to demonstrate his backing for the UN bid.
“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.
“Abu Mazen deserves to have all the Palestinians standing with him in this battle,” he told AFP.
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.”
In Jericho, crowds lined up to board buses for Ramallah.
“I’m going to Ramallah today to say ‘Thank you president Mahmoud Abbas’,” said Anwar Ahmed, a government employee clutching a Palestinian flag.
“Before the president’s UN speech I didn’t care that much about politics, but after hearing the speech I understood better the difficulties we face as a people and the difficulties our president faces,” Ahmed said.
Huge crowds were expected to turn out for the celebration, with the Palestinian workers’ union calling on its members to join and government offices and schools closing early for the event.
Both state television and the state-run news agency Wafa urged the public to mass at the Muqataa, and Palestinians across the West Bank received text messages advertising “the official mass reception.”
Abbas is experiencing an unprecedented boost in popularity after delivering a request earlier this week that the United Nations admit Palestine as a full member state.
His address to the General Assembly, delivered shortly after he formally submitted the bid, was broadcast live on big screens set up in the centers of major West Bank cities, where crowds cheered the unassuming leader.