HEBRON, West Bank (Reuters) – Thousands of Palestinians turned out in the West Bank Sunday to urge Mahmoud Abbas to run again for the presidency following his announcement that he did not want a second term in the job.
Waving flags, Abbas supporters greeted the president as he conducted a rare tour of towns in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, part of the territories where the Palestinians aim to establish a state.
“Mahmoud Abbas, don’t step down! You are the foundation,” chanted the crowd. The Fatah movement, which Abbas heads, had called for participation in the show of support.
“We need you,” Hebron governor Hussein al-Araj told Abbas during a reception at which supporters urged him not to quit. In a short address, Abbas did not respond to their calls.
He was due to visit Bethlehem later Sunday.
The scenes were broadcast live on official Palestine television, which has been airing programs in support of Abbas since his declaration Thursday that he did not want to run in the election he recently scheduled for January 24.
Many analysts believe his announcement could be a tactic to prompt the United States to put more pressure on Israel to halt all West Bank settlement building.
But chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat reiterated on Sunday that Abbas’s announcement was a not a tactic.
Abbas has built his political career around negotiating a peace deal with Israel. He voiced disappointment in his speech last Thursday with what he described as the United States “favoring” Israel in arguments over re-launching peace talks.
The Palestine Liberation Organization, which Abbas also heads, has rejected his announcement, urging him to stay on.
Abbas, 74, replaced the late Yasser Arafat as president five years ago. His call for presidential and legislative elections has been rejected by the Islamist group Hamas, which seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007 and contests his legitimacy.
Hamas defeated Abbas’s Fatah movement in the last Palestinian parliamentary elections, held in 2006.
Given Hamas’s decision to ban the coming elections in the Gaza Strip, many analysts doubt whether the poll will go ahead at all, and if it did it would lack legitimacy, they say.