RAMALLAH, WEST BANK - President Mahmoud Abbas received a hero's welcome on Sunday from thousands of cheering, flag-waving Palestinians, having made a bid for U.N. recognition that appears destined to fail but has allowed him to finally step out of the shadow of his iconic predecessor, Yasser Arafat.
The crowd, many of them holding posters of Abbas, repeatedly chanted his name as he spoke. Abbas was uncharacteristically animated, shaking his hands, waving to the audience and charming the crowd with references to "my brothers and sisters."
Abbas' call on Friday for the United Nations to recognize Palestinian independence has transformed him in the eyes of many Palestinians from gray bureaucrat to champion of their rights. Though Israel and the United States consider it a step back for long-stalled peace talks, it could help Abbas overcome internal struggles and gain the support he will need to get a deal through one day.
In a brief address outside his headquarters in Ramallah, Abbas told the crowd that a "Palestinian Spring" had been born, similar to the mass demonstrations sweeping the region in what has become known as the Arab Spring.
"We have told the world that there is the Arab Spring, but the Palestinian Spring is here," he said. "A popular spring, a populist spring, a spring of peaceful struggle that will reach its goal."
He cautioned that the Palestinians face a "long path" ahead. "There are those who would put out obstacles ... but with your presence they will fall and we will reach our end."
The dynamic public appearance was a noticeable change for the 76-year-old Abbas, who was elected shortly after Arafat's death seven years ago. While Arafat was known for his trademark olive-green military garb and fiery speeches, Abbas favors suits and typically drones on in a monotone.
In seeking U.N. recognition, Abbas "moved the feelings and emotions of the ordinary Palestinian," said Mahdi Abdul-Hadi, a respected Palestinian academic in Jerusalem. "He gave the people national pride after they were denied it."
Abbas' calls for nonviolence and his successes in restoring law and order to the West Bank have won him respect in Israel and abroad. But at home, he is often seen as weak and ineffectual in his dealings with Israel and the rival Hamas movement, which seized control of the Gaza Strip from his forces in 2007.
Abdul-Hadi said that at the end of a long career, Abbas is thinking about his legacy and wants to be remembered as the man who led his people to independence. He said it was no accident that on Sunday, Abbas delivered his speech outside the memorial where Arafat is buried.
Abbas has asked the U.N. Security Council to recognize an independent Palestine in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip -- areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war. About 500,000 Jewish settlers now live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005.
The international community, meanwhile, is continuing to search for a formula to bring Israel and the Palestinians back to negotiations.
The Quartet of Mideast mediators -- the United States, European Union, Russia and the United Nations -- on Friday issued a statement calling for a resumption of peace talks without preconditions and a target for a final agreement by the end of 2012.
Israel's foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said that his government should accept the Quartet proposal, "despite all the reservations." But Abbas signaled it was a nonstarter as long as it doesn't include a settlement freeze.
"We will not accept anything but ... a halt to settlement construction completely," he said.
Amid the impasse, both Israeli and Palestinian officials have expressed fears the tensions could explode into violence. One Palestinian was killed in the West Bank on Friday after a clash between settlers and villagers.