Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas returned from Washington on Thursday to a hero’s welcome in Ramallah, where he pledged not to give up the Palestinians’ rights or betray their trust.
Abbas told thousands of Palestinians at a rally in his Mukata headquarters that in his meeting on Monday with US President Barack Obama, “I have honored my pledge and kept my promise,” the Wafa news agency reported.
Thousands of Palestinians staged rallies in several West Bank cities, urging Abbas to resist concessions, “especially on the issue of recognizing Israel as a “Jewish state,” the news agency reported.
“Be assured that we will be victorious. We will keep secure what you have entrusted us with,” he said.
One Israeli government source responded to the rally by saying it was reminiscent of Yasser Arafat’s return from Camp David in 2000, when it appeared that the Palestinians were celebrating the failure of peace talks. The second intifada broke out shortly thereafter.
“If the Palestinians celebrate rejectionism, they’re closing the door to Palestinian statehood, because the only way to achieve a Palestinian state is through negotiations and agreement with Israel,” the official said. “A rejectionist position makes Palestinian statehood impossible, and in maintaining such a position ultimately the Palestinians are only hurting themselves.”
The PLO, of which the PA is an organ, threatened to seek full recognition as a member state of the UN if Israel does not go through with the release of the fourth batch of Palestinian security prisoners scheduled for March 29. A number of Israeli cabinet ministers have in recent days questioned the wisdom of going ahead with the prisoner release without a firm commitment from Abbas to continue the negotiations beyond the April 29 deadline.
The Palestinians achieved nonmember state status in the UN General Assembly in 2012.
They agreed, as part of the framework leading to the current nine-month negotiations that concludes at the end of April, not to take any unilateral steps in international forums.
“We are waiting for the word from Abu Mazen [Abbas] to take action in the international arena,” the PA Foreign Ministry said.
On Wednesday, the PA released a list of 30 prisoners it wants released, including 14 Israeli Arabs. The Prime Minister’s Office has made no comment regarding whether the release will go on as planned.
Abbas also asked Washington to mediate with Israel for the release of Marwan Barghouti, leader of the Fatah-Tanzim militia and a possible presidential contender.
The Tel Aviv District Court sentenced Barghouti to five life sentences and 40 years in jail in 2004, finding him guilty of orchestrating five murders and an attempted murder, in ambushes and suicide attacks during the second intifada.
Barghouti, now 54, has always denied the charges, and he remains a highly popular figure among Palestinians, portrayed by his supporters as a Nelson Mandela-like figure who could galvanize and reunite their divided political landscape.
Israel has refused to free Barghouti in the past, leaving him out of the prisoner swap struck with Hamas in 2011 for soldier Gilad Schalit, which saw some 1,000 Palestinian inmates go free.
Many Palestinians see the charismatic Barghouti, a senior member of Abbas’s Fatah movement, as a top contender to succeed Abbas, who will turn 79 on Wednesday and has no designated deputy. Barghouti was a leader in both the first and second intifadas.
Reuters contributed to this story.