The Palestinian refugees must return to their original homes inside Israel and not to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestinian Authority Minister for Refugees Affairs, Hamas's Atef Udwan, said on Wednesday.
Udwan's statement came in response to reports that Israel and the US had demanded that the next Arab summit, due to be held in Saudi Arabia later this month, introduce certain changes to the 2002 Arab peace initiative, especially with regards to the "right of return" for the refugees.
Nabil Abu Rudaineh, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, also opposed introducing changes to the Arab peace plan. "We are opposed to making any changes in the Arab plan," Abu Rudaineh said. "The plan enjoys the backing of all the Arab leaders and represents a fine and balanced basis for solving the Arab-Israeli conflict."
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Referring to the controversial refugee clause, Abu Rudaineh said that the Arab peace plan guaranteed a "just solution to the problem of the refugees on the basis of United Nations resolution 194."
Udwan, meanwhile, warned Arab states against complying with the Israeli and American demand, saying the refugees must be allowed to return to their former villages inside Israel.
"Forcing the refugees in the Arab world to return to the West Bank and Gaza Strip will only serve Israel's interests," he said. "Such a move will also fulfill Israel's desire to prevent the refugees from practicing their right of return."
Udwan warned that the return of the refugees to the West Bank and Gaza Strip would have "serious repercussions" because the international community would regard it as a solution to the problem.
"Moving the refugees to the West Bank and Gaza Strip will be in violation of United Nations resolutions emphasizing the right of return to Palestine," the Hamas minister added. He also ruled out the possibility that the Arab states would agree to make introduce changes to the Arab peace plan.
"I don't believe there is an Arab party that will agree to give up the right of return," he declared," he said. "Our people will never accept such a concession. In the past, our people have totally rejected Palestinian initiatives that ignored the right of return of the refugees and attempts to resettle Palestinians in Sinai and Iraq."