Thousands of Palestinians are marking five years since the death of Yasser Arafat, their iconic leader who led them for nearly four decades, pushing the struggle for an independent homeland onto the world stage.
Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, addressing a rally honouring Arafat in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Wednesday, where Palestinians remain divided, said he was extending a hand to Hamas for reconciliation.
Abbas addressed the crowd amid grim predictions by his aides that he may resign as president which could lead to the collapse of the Palestinian Authority, which was established by Arafat during the Oslo peace process in the 1990s.
The beleaguered Palestinian president said he did not want to talk anymore about his decision not to run for president for a second time due to stalled peace efforts that have failed to bring about an independent Palestinian state.
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He insisted the Palestinians remain committed to a peaceful solution to the conflict and accused Israel of hindering peace efforts by expanding settlements in the occupied West Bank including east Jerusalem.
“We see Israel confiscating land, building settlements and Judaising Jerusalem with unprecedented speed … and then they ask that we return to negotiations,” Abbas told the huge crowd.
“The return to negotiations depends on Israel adhering to the terms of reference of peace and that means halting all settlements, including natural growth and Jerusalem,” he said.
‘Moment of truth’
Saeb Erakat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, told the AFP news agency: “The moment of truth has come and we have to be frank with the Palestinian people that we have not been able to reach a two-state solution through 18 years of negotiation.”
Referring to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the Six Day War, he said: “We have become convinced that Israel doesn’t want a Palestinian state on lands it occupied in 1967.”
If Abbas were to resign, it would throw the divided Palestinians into new legal and political limbo, analysts say.
According to Palestinian Basic Law, Abbas’s resignation has to be approved by two-thirds of the Palestinian parliament in order to become effective.
But the chamber has not convened since 2006 and it is unclear whether it would do so if he quits.
If the resignation is approved, Aziz Dweik, the speaker of parliament of Fatah rival, Hamas, would assume the presidency until new elections are held within 60 days.
Abbas called for elections to be held in January but Hamas, which has urged Palestinians to reject his leadership, called on voters to stage a boycott.