PA: Abbas did not relinquish right of return

Palestinian Authority president slammed for Channel 2 interview; adviser says Abbas referred to state within '67 borders.

Mahmoud Abbas on Channel 2 (photo credit: Screenshot)
Mahmoud Abbas on Channel 2
(photo credit: Screenshot)
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 lines.
Abbas’s remarks drew sharp criticism from many Palestinians, including Hamas, who accused him of giving up the refugees’ “right of return.”
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 parliament-in-exile].”
Abu Rudaineh criticized Hamas for supposedly accepting the idea of establishing a Palestinian state with provisional borders.
“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 said.
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 channel.
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 of Israel.
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 return.”
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said: “If Mahmoud Abbas does not want Safed, then Safed would not be honored to receive people like him.”
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.
“If 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.”