RAMALLAH, West Bank — Thousands of Palestinians rallied in West Bank cities on Monday in support of President Mahmoud Abbas, hours before his scheduled meeting at the White House with President Obama.
Palestinians carried pictures of the Palestinian leader and banners expressing support for Abbas, who Palestinians fear faces pressure from Obama and other world leaders to accept a framework peace agreement with Israel that falls short of their aspirations for independence.
"We are here, Mr. President, to tell you that we are behind you in your efforts to find a solution to our just case that would end the [Israeli] occupation and establish our independent state on all the territories occupied in 1967, with Jerusalem as its capital," said Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, addressing around 4,000 people who gathered in Ramallah city center for the rally.
Wasel abu Yousef, a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said Palestinians would not give up what they see as their right to return to lands in Israel many of them fled during its establishment in 1947.
Palestinians widely believe that the framework plan put together by Secretary of State John F. Kerry includes recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, which in the view of many Palestinians would deny their historic and cultural ties to land now part of Israel.
They also believe it calls for an extension to the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations Kerry has re-launched at the end of July and which are supposed to end next month with a final peace settlement.
Abbas' critics among the Palestinians believe he went to Washington intent on extending the negotiations past their April 29 deadline.
The rallies were planned by Abbas' Fatah party. Schools dismissed students and public offices sent their staffs home early, which helped multiply the numbers of participants.
Scouts marched through the streets playing nationalist songs as people stood and watched, occasionally clapping and cheering whenever an official said something in support of Abbas.
Two ultra-Orthodox Jews from the anti-Zionist Neturi Karta movement stood on the podium in Ramallah in a show of support for the Palestinian demands for an end to the Israeli occupation and the establishment of an independent state.
The pro-Abbas Fatah rallies in the Gaza Strip were broken up by Hamas forces and some people were arrested, according to human-rights groups. Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip since June 2007 after defeating Abbas' forces in a short battle, is opposed to negotiations with Israel.
Abukhater is a special correspondent.