Israel, Palestinians deny refugee deal

Sides reject report that PM offered to absorb 20,000 Palestinian refugees as part of peace agreement.

Olmert Abbas 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Olmert Abbas 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Israel and the Palestinian Authority on Thursday denied a report that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had agreed to absorb 20,000 Palestinian refugees in Israel as part of a future peace deal. Following publication of the claim in Haaretz Thursday morning, the Prime Minister's Office said in a statement: "The prime minister never offered to absorb Palestinian refugees into Israel. Olmert has said time and again that any political agreement will not include the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel, no matter the number." In addition, the PMO stated that these issues were clarified in discussions held between Olmert and PA President Mahmoud Abbas and in meetings held with US officials. "The prime minister's position is that the establishment of a Palestinian state would provide the answer to the refugee question," the statement said. Furthermore, the PMO asserted that "with regards to the refugees that will not return to a Palestinian state, an international mechanism will be established to determine monetary compensation. The US stance on this is similar to Israel's as demonstrated in an April 2004 letter by [US President George W. Bush], in which he said that there will be no return to the state of Israel, only to a Palestinian state." Yasser Abed Rabo, a top adviser to Abbas, also denied receiving such an offer, saying that it appeared to have been discussed only in the media. According to Israel Radio, Abed Rabo said that if the PA were to agree to such a deal, the amount of returning refugees "offered" would become the maximum such number in any agreement with Israel. He added that, at any rate, such a deal was unlikely to be honored by Israel. According to the Haaretz report, Olmert suggested to Abbas that the shelf agreement between Israel and the PA would include an agreement on the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel under the banner of "family reunification." According to sources in Israel and the US quoted by the paper, Olmert suggested to Abbas that Israel would absorb 2,000 Palestinian refugees a year over a course of 20 years, on a humanitarian basis. Their absorption would be stipulated upon the condition that all other refugee issues be agreed on, and that the Palestinians agree to relinquish the "right of return" to Israel. Any other refugees would only be able to return to a future Palestinian state.