The Palestinians will continue to demand the right of return for millions of refugees to their original homes inside Israel even after the UN recognizes a Palestinian state along the June 4, 1967, lines, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said on Sunday.

Responding to legal experts’ claims that a Palestinian state could affect the status of the PLO as the “sole legitimate representative” of the Palestinians, Abbas told the Jordanian newspaper Ad-Dustour: “The PLO represents all the Palestinians, not only those in the Palestinian territories and whose number is estimated at 4 million. The PLO represents all 8 million Palestinians in the world.”

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He said that the PLO would continue to function until all Palestinian issues were resolved, including the case of the refugees. The PA, he added, is part of the PLO and not a separate body.

Abbas claimed that there were 5 million refugees.

“This case must be placed at the negotiating table and the difference between us and the Israelis is they don’t want to talk about this issue,” he said.

“We have told them that this issue must be discussed on the basis of international legitimacy.”

A British expert in international law has warned that millions of Palestinian refugees living outside the West Bank and the Gaza Strip could lose their representation at the UN if the PA succeeds in winning recognition of a state next month.

A seven-page legal opinion prepared by Guy Goodwin- Gill, a professor of international law at Oxford, concluded that “the interests of the Palestinian people are at risk of prejudice and fragmentation” and the refugees in the diaspora risk losing “their entitlement to equal representation... their ability to vocalize their views, to participate in matters of national governance, including the formation and political identity of the state, and to exercise the right of return.”

The PLO has had observer status at the UN since 1974. Goodwin-Gill suggested that this status would be transferred to the state of Palestine in September.

Abbas told the newspaper that he decided to launch the statehood initiative after the peace talks with Israel reached a deadlock. He said that the PA would return to the negotiating table only if Israel halted construction in the settlements and accepted the 1967 lines as the basis for a two-state solution.

Abbas said that 122 countries have voiced support for the statehood bid. He expected the number to rise to 128 by the time the Palestinians go to the UN in late September.

Asked whether the PA leadership has come under pressure from the US administration to abandon the statehood plan, Abbas replied: “Yes, there’s a stick, but without a carrot. Indeed, we are under pressure not to go [to the UN]. The pressure is also on other countries. But in the end we want to follow the higher interest of the Palestinians.

True, we don’t want a clash with America, because we’re not qualified for such a confrontation.”

He pointed out that Congress has threatened to cut off aid to the Palestinians if they insist on going to the UN Security Council or General Assembly.

Abbas noted that the US was giving the Palestinians more than $570 million in annual aid while the Arab countries were failing to fulfill their financial pledges.

Acknowledging that the situation on the ground would not change for the Palestinians when and if a Palestinian state is declared, the PA president explained: “First, there will be a state under occupation. The Israelis these days deal with us on the basis that we are not a state and that the Palestinian lands are disputed territories. But when the recognition of our state on the 1967 borders happens, we will become a state under occupation, and then we would be able to go to the UN [with demands]. We will remain under occupation, but our legal status will change.”

Abbas said he was strongly opposed to an armed intifada against Israel.

“As long as I’m the president of the Palestinian Authority, I won’t agree to an armed intifada,” he said. “I believe there’s a semi-consensus on the need for calm. All the Palestinian factions know what the repercussions of armed action would be. However, I support peaceful demonstrations and popular activities in every place in Palestine.”


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