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Palestinians cheer Abbas's hardline position on peace talks

Thousands of cheering Palestinians welcome their president Mahmud Abbas (poster) outside his Ramallah headquarters on Sept. 25, 2011, as he returned from delivering a historic UN membership bid.

Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images/Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images

Mahmoud Abbas returned from the United Nations to a hero's welcome in the West Bank, rejecting a speedy return to negotiations with Israel as both Palestinians and Israelis appeared to harden their positions on peace talks.

Thousands gathered at the Palestinian Authority's presidential compound in Ramallah Sunday following Mr. Abbas's bid to make Palestine a full member of the UN. The crowd cheered when he assured them there would be no peace talks with Israel until it agrees to a complete halt of Israeli settlement construction in the Palestinian territory.

"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 said, as the crowd chanted: "The people want a Palestinian state."

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Earlier Mr. Abbas had rejected an appeal for an early return to negotiations from the Quartet, a group comprising the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia, because it had not included an explicit freeze of settlement construction. The Quartet had called for talks to begin within a month, and for a final deal to be reached before the end of 2012. Israel had hinted it was prepared to accept the formula.

"We have told the world that there is the Arab Spring, but the Palestinian Spring has been born," Mr. Abbas told the crowd. "A popular spring, a populist spring, a spring of peaceful struggle that will reach its goal."

Several Israeli commentators heaped scorn on the Palestinian leader for the hostile address he delivered Friday at the United Nations. Many were especially incensed that in reciting the religious groups that traced their lineage to the Holy Land, he included Muslims and Christians but omitted Jews.

Israelis are also reeling from the shift in popular fortunes that has taken place since Friday. The UN General Assembly showered Mr. Abbas and his bid for Palestinian statehood with applause while leaving Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his remarks of rebuttal out in the cold.

"This is what a political tsunami looks like," wrote the Haaretz newspaper Sunday, "and this is what international isolation feels like."

For his part, Mr. Netanyahu stayed on in New York over the weekend and told NBC's Meet The Press he had this advice for Mr. Abbas: "If you want to get to peace, put all your preconditions to the side," a reference to the Palestinians' demand for a settlement freeze.

While Palestinian communities were out in force celebrating their leadership's new-found defiance, hundreds of Israeli settlers gathered in the Kiryat Arba settlement in Hebron for an emotional funeral.

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On Friday afternoon, prior to the UN speeches, with tensions in the territories high and thousands of Israeli forces deployed throughout the Palestinian areas, a car travelling at high speed on the highway north of Hebron left the road, rolled over twice in the air and crashed into a ditch. The impact destroyed the car and killed its 25-year-old driver, Asher Palmer, and his one-year-old son, Yonatan.

Settlers in Kiryat Arba, where Mr. Palmer lived, suspected the crash was the result of a terrorist attack, but Israeli soldiers in the vicinity of the accident said there had been no incidents of stone throwing in the area. The settler leadership maintained its position and Israeli police, after being accused of deliberately covering up a murder, finally concurred on Sunday.

At the outdoor funeral for the Palmers, religious leaders delivering the eulogy repeatedly referred to Mr. Palmer as a martyr.

"He was murdered only because he lived in the land of Israel," one speaker said. "His death sanctifies the name of God."

The words were eerily similar to those spoken over the body of a 35-year-old Palestinian father of five who was killed Friday at about the same time as the Palmers' deaths – in a clash with Israeli soldiers in the Palestinian town of Qusra, south of Nablus. Essam Kamal Badran was referred to by Mr. Abbas in his UN address and described as "the first martyr" of the "independent state of Palestine."

In a quiet but determined way, amid signs that had scrawled "revenge" in bright red paint, people at the Palmer funeral said that if the security forces can't keep the roads safe for their community, then people of Kiryat Arba would have to do whatever it takes to protect themselves.

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"These people kill women and children," said Ori Arnon, a teacher in his twenties who has lived in the Jewish community of Hebron all his life, referring to Palestinians who, he believes, attacked the Palmer car. He blamed the Palestinian leader, Mr. Abbas, for such violence.

"He's not a terrorist himself," Mr. Arnon said, "but he incites terror."

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About the Author
Global Affairs reporter

As Global Affairs Writer, Patrick Martin’s primary focus is on the turbulent Middle East, to which he travels regularly. He has twice been posted to the region – from 1991-95 and from 2008-12. More

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