In an interview last week with Channel 2’s Udi Segal, Palestinian Authority
President Mahmoud Abbas presented a surprisingly moderate stance vis-à-vis
Palestinians’ “right of return.”
Though he clarified that the issue would
have to be settled in negotiations, Abbas admitted that he personally had no
“right” to return permanently to his birthplace in Safed.
for me is the [June 4], 1967, borders, with east Jerusalem as its capital,” he
said. “This is now and forever.... This is Palestine for me. I am [a] refugee,
but I am living in Ramallah.”
Abbas even went on to reject references in
official Palestinian television to places such as Acre, Ramle and Jaffa – all
cities well within sovereign Israel – as “Palestine,” and added, “I believe that
[the] the West Bank and Gaza is Palestine and the other parts [are]
Abbas’s comments for Channel 2 were reminiscent of statements
the PA president purportedly made during negotiations in 2008 with then-prime
minister Ehud Olmert and then-foreign minister Tzipi Livni.
the “PaliLeaks” documents apparently leaked by the Palestinian Negotiation
Support Unit to Al Jazeera and The Guardian and made public in January 2011,
Abbas admitted that “on numbers of refugees, it is illogical to ask Israel to
take 5 million, or even 1 million – that would mean the end of
Both the Channel 2 interview and the PaliLeaks documents seemed
to reveal a refreshing pragmatism and willingness to compromise among the
One of the major obstacles to peace – the issue
of the Palestinian insistence on the “right of return” for millions of
“refugees” – appeared to be eminently soluble.
Unfortunately, as in the
aftermath of the PaliLeaks revelations, high-ranking Palestinian officials
rushed to “clarify” Abbas’s comments, revealing once again the yawning divide
that continues to separate our two peoples.
Rather than using Abbas’s
comments on the “right of return” as an opportunity to show the world that
Palestinians are willing to show flexibility on a maximalist demand that would
mean the end of Israel as a state with a Jewish majority, the official PA
reaction was the complete opposite.
Nabil Abu Rudaineh, a spokesman for
Abbas, responding to sharp criticism of the PA president on the Palestinian
street, reiterated Palestinian intransigence on the refugee issue.
position of the Palestinian leadership remains fixed,” Abu Rudaineh said. “The
refugees and the right of return are among the final-status issues that will be
negotiated with the Israelis.” He went on to say that Abbas’s interview was
nothing more than a tactical move aimed at “affecting Israeli public
Even if we are to take Abbas’s comments at face value and
believe that he and others in the PA are responsible leaders sincerely
interested in working toward a sovereign Palestinian state living in peace
alongside the Jewish state of Israel, this is not enough. Abbas is paying for
his own and his leadership’s insistence on saying one thing in public and
something else altogether behind closed doors or in an interview aimed at the
When speaking to the Palestinians, the Abbas-led PA has
consistently marginalized or outright denied the Jewish people’s historic,
religious and cultural ties to the Land of Israel. It has glorified terrorists
who have massacred Israelis, while depicting the Jews of Israel as evil and
Given the narrative they are fed by their leaders, why would
the Palestinian people agree to compromise with an ostensibly illegitimate
Zionist entity on the refugee issue? Why would they be willing to give up a
“right of return” that has become an integral part of Palestinian identity?
Abbas and other Palestinian leaders could and should have worked to prepare
their people for peace with Israel.
They could and should have adjusted
the public messages to the Palestinian people to reflect the types of sane and
realistic statements made to Channel 2 or behind closed doors in negotiations
The capacity to make peace depends on changing perceptions –
including the national narratives we tell ourselves and our peoples. The fallout
from Abbas’s Channel 2 interview is yet another dismal indicator that the
Palestinian people have yet to be prepared by their leadership for such a