Ethan Bronner
The New York Times
September 25, 2011 - 12:00am

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Two days after seeking full membership for a State of Palestine in the United Nations, President Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader, returned to a hero’s welcome here on Sunday, telling supporters that they were part of a “Palestinian Spring” and that he would resume peace talks with Israel only if it stopped building settlements.

On Friday, the United States, the United Nations, Russia and the European Union — known together as the Quartet — urged the Palestinians and the Israelis to return to direct negotiations within a month without preconditions. Since this is close to Israel’s position, leaders there welcomed the plan.

Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, told Army Radio that Israel “ought to agree to the Quartet proposal, despite all the reservations,” to show its gratitude for American help during the recent ransacking of the Israeli Embassy in Cairo and for President Obama’s United Nations speech last week, opposing the Palestinian membership bid, which was greeted enthusiastically by the Israelis.

But Mr. Lieberman told reporters last week that he would not accept a settlement freeze “even for one day,” calling it a red line that could cause him to pull his Yisrael Beiteinu party out of the governing coalition.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has himself consistently rejected a settlement freeze, saying that he had tried one for 10 months and that the Palestinians came to negotiate only after nine of those months had elapsed. He would also face strong opposition from within his own Likud Party.

The Palestinians, despairing of the negotiation process, have approached the United Nations in hopes of improving their position.

Israeli officials say they believe that Mr. Abbas’s attempt to gain United Nations membership through the Security Council is running into trouble and may not garner the nine votes needed. Even if it did, the United States has vowed to veto it. The Palestinians might then approach the General Assembly for a lesser status as a nonmember state.

Here in Ramallah, thousands greeted Mr. Abbas at his office headquarters, waving flags, shouting oaths of loyalty and holding aloft his photograph. Mr. Abbas, a withdrawn figure who lacks charisma, is enjoying a wave of popularity for standing up to Washington over the membership application and delivering a tough speech at the United Nations on Friday.

“We have told the world that there is the Arab Spring, but there is also the Palestinian Spring,” he said on Sunday. “It is a spring of popular and peaceful struggle that will reach its goal.”

Some of those in the crowd were skeptical that a peaceful struggle could wrest an independent state from the Israeli occupation.

“We are not against a peaceful solution, but we don’t believe it,” said Abdullah Hawaja, 30, of the West Bank village of Nilin. He arrived with friends to welcome Mr. Abbas, as did Palestinians from across the West Bank. He added: “Israel won’t give up. This land will not be free except through war. What was taken by force can only be retrieved by force.”

Israeli commentators also doubted that progress was imminent.

One of them, Nahum Barnea, writing in the newspaper Yediot Aharonot, said that Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Abbas “are returning home to their peoples with suitcases packed with large, charged and weighty words. There was just one word that they forgot to bring with them: hope.”


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