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Palestinian statehood bid brings Abbas a personal victory

Mahmoud Abbas's statehood bid at the United Nations earned him jubilant praise from Palestinians in the West Bank, although Hamas opposition to the bid kept Gaza mostly silent.

By Rebecca CollardCorrespondent, Correspondent / September 23, 2011

A Palestinian woman cries during the speech of President Mahmoud Abbas's statehood bid at the United Nations, in Ramallah, West Bank, on Friday.

Bernat Armangue/AP

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Ramallah, West Bank; and Gaza City, Gaza

Thousands of Palestinians gathered in central Ramallah Friday night to hear Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speak to the United Nations and formally announce the bid for UN statehood membership.

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Mr. Abbas’ fulfillment of his promise to launch the UN bid garnered the leader – often criticized as uncompelling and being too willing to concede to Israel – newfound popularity among Palestinians.

“Now, I support him. For the last years I have opposed his polices,” says Omar Saleh, standing with his mother in a sea of Palestinian flags. “He has given the Israelis too many chances and not given any hope to the Palestinians.”

Abbas has led the Palestinian Authority since January 2005 and has struggled to step outside the shadow of his iconic, charismatic predecessor, Yasser Arafat. Abbas has always had a core of supporters from his leading Fatah movement, but many Palestinians saw him as weak and too cooperative with Israel and the United States. Earlier this year, documents related to the peace process were leaked that showed Palestinian negotiators under his leadership offering Israel compromises that many Palestinians were unwilling to accept.

But his fulfillment today of his promise to go to the UN Security Council – against American wishes – has gained him a groundswell of support. Among the chants coming from the crowd in Ramallah was Abbas’ nickname, Abu Mazen. Many held posters of their president.

“With 18 years of negotiations and false promises, he is giving the final ultimatum to the world and the UN,” says Mr. Saleh, adding that he has long felt negotiations served the Palestinian Authority and Israel more than they served the Palestinian people. “Now he has proven he is honest.”

In the square, which was recently re-named after Mr. Arafat, several-stories-high posters of Abbas and Arafat hung from the buildings.

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