The Palestinian Authority announced Saturday that its president, Mahmoud Abbas,
has not relinquished Palestinian refugees’ “right to return” to their former
homes inside Israel.
The statement came after Abbas told Channel 2 on
Thursday that he did not want to return to his former hometown of Safed and that
a Palestinian state would be established only within the pre-1967
Abbas’s remarks drew sharp criticism from many Palestinians,
including Hamas, who accused him of giving up the refugees’ “right of
PA officials explained over the weekend that Abbas’s position
regarding the refugees had not changed.
“The position of the Palestinian
leadership remains fixed,” said Nabil Abu Rudaineh, a spokesman for Abbas. “The
refugees and the right of return are among the final-status issues that will be
negotiated with the Israelis. We are committed to the Palestinian principles as
endorsed by the Palestine National Council [the PLO’s
Abu Rudaineh criticized Hamas for supposedly
accepting the idea of establishing a Palestinian state with provisional
“Those who accept a temporary [Palestinian] state are the ones
who are giving up the right of return and harming Palestinian national
principles, causing a catastrophe for future Palestinian generations,” he
Abu Rudaineh said that the interview with Channel 2 was aimed at
“affecting Israeli public opinion.”
The spokesman pointed out that the
attacks on Abbas coincided with Israeli and American “threats” against the PA
president over his intention to ask the UN later this month to upgrade the
status of Palestine to a “non-member state.”
Nimer Hammad, political
adviser to Abbas, said the PA president did not mention anything about giving up
the “right of return” during the interview with the Israeli TV
Hammad also said that the issue of the refugees would be
discussed with Israel as one of the final-status issues.
Hamas said that
Abbas made it clear during the interview that although he had lived in Safed
until the age of 13, when a Palestinian state is established Safed will be part
Abbas also said in the interview that as long as he is in
power there will not be another intifada.
Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar said
the timing of Abbas’s remarks concerning an intifada and the refugees “carried
grave implications.” Zahar said Abbas was expressing his personal opinion and
not that of the Palestinians.
Zahar noted that Abbas’s remarks had
coincided with the anniversary of the 1917 Balfour Declaration. “If Abbas claims
that he represents the Palestinians, then he should hold a referendum and ask
the people what they think about the right of return,” the Hamas leader told the
Egyptian news agency Asharq al-Awsat.
He added that Abbas’s statements
also violated the Arab position that supports the “right of
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said: “If Mahmoud Abbas does not
want Safed, then Safed would not be honored to receive people like
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and several
groups representing Palestinian refugees also issued statements strongly
condemning Abbas for his statements to Channel 2.
Abdel Bari Atwan,
editor-in-chief of the London-based Al- Quds Al-Arabi newspaper, accused Abbas of
making “free concessions” by saying that he does not want to return to Safed. He
also accused Abbas of being disrespectful toward the Palestinians.
Abbas does not want to return to Safed, and to continue living in Ramallah or
Amman, that’s his personal decision,” Atwan wrote. “But in such a case he should
not be claiming to represent – or talk on behalf of – six million refugees
scattered throughout the world.”