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Abbas calls into question a universal Palestinian wish to return

News reports from the Guardian, AP and Ma’an news.


Gazans on Saturday protesting PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s recent comment on whether he would exercise a right of return to his home village.  His remarks on Israel’s Channel 2 last Thursday have been condemned by Hamas, the PFLP, and all sectors of the right in Israel. Photo: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90

Mahmoud Abbas outrages Palestinian refugees by waiving his right to return

Images of Abbas burned by refugees who say he has conceded on one of the most visceral issues on Palestinian agenda

Harriet Sherwood, guardian.co.uk,
November 04, 2012

Jerusalem–Palestinian refugees burn an image of Mahmoud Abbas after he told Israeli television he accepted he had no right to live in the town of his birth. Photograph: Hatem Moussa/AP

The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, is facing widespread condemnation and anger in the Palestinian territories and abroad after he publicly waived his right to return to live in the town from which his family was forced to flee in 1948, a repudiation of huge significance for Palestinian refugees.

After his image was burned in refugee camps in Gaza, Abbas rejected accusations that he had conceded one of the most emotional and visceral issues on the Palestinian agenda, the demand by millions of refugees to return to their former homes in what is now Israel.

He insisted that comments made in an interview with an Israeli television channel were selectively quoted and the remarks were his personal stance, rather than a change of policy.

Abbas told Channel 2 he accepted he had no right to live in Safed, the town of his birth, from which his family was forced to flee in 1948 when Abbas was 13.

“I visited Safed before once, he said. “But I want to see Safed. It’s my right to see it, but not to live there.”

Referring to the internationally-recognised pre-1967 border, he went on: “Palestine now for me is ’67 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. This is now and forever … This is Palestine for me. I am a refugee, but I am living in Ramallah. I believe that the West Bank and Gaza is Palestine and the other parts are Israel.”

The comments sparked protests in Gaza, where people in refugee camps burned images of the Palestinian president. Abbas was denounced on Twitter by pro-Palestinian activists.

Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas ruler in Gaza, said the issue was not about Abbas’s right to return to Safed but “the rights of 6 million Palestinians”.

He said in a statement: “No one has the right, whoever he is – a common man or president, organisation, a government or authority – to give up an inch of Palestinian land.”

Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, said the president’s statement did “not represent in any way the views of the Palestinian people”.

The “right of return” is one of the most intractable issues in talks between the Israelis and Palestinians for a resolution to their decades-old conflict. The Palestinians have historically demanded that all those who fled or were expelled from their homes in the period around the formation of the state of Israel in 1948, and their descendants, must be allowed to return to their former homes.

About 5 million Palestinians are registered as refugees in the Palestinian territories and abroad.

Israel rejects their demand, saying that such a move would spell the end of the Jewish state.

Most international diplomats and observers believe that a settlement to the conflict is likely to involve a symbolic number of Palestinian refugees being given the right to return.

Following the broadcast of the interview, Israel’s president, Shimon Peres, said Abbas’s comments were a “brave and important public declaration”. In a statement, he said Abbas had shown he was “a real partner for peace” and that he understood “the solution to the Palestinian refugee issue cannot be in Israel’s territory and to the detriment of Israel’s character”.

Israel’s defence, minister Ehud Barak, described Abbas’s remarks as courageous and clear.

But Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu. dismissed the comments, saying that the Palestinian president had different messages for different audiences. “There is no connection between [his] statements and his actual actions,” he said, calling for Abbas to return to negotiations.

Palestinian sources played down the row, saying Abbas’s comments had been misconstrued. One suggested the president had been ill-prepared for the interview and it had been a mistake to agree to conduct it in English, a language in which Abbas is not fluent.

Ghassan Khatib, an academic at Bir Zeit university in the West Bank and a former Palestinian Authority spokesman, said Abbas had not suggested a change in the official position. “This is an optional right. If an individual refugee does not wish to return, he will be free not to return. We all know that all Palestinians are not going to return. Some understand this, some do not.”

In the interview, Abbas also said that, while he was president, there would be “no third armed intifada [uprising against Israel]. Never.”

He said: “We don’t want to use terror. We don’t want to use force. We don’t want to use weapons. We want to use diplomacy. We want to use politics. We want to use negotiations. We want to use peaceful resistance. That’s it.” He has said that Palestinian negotiators are willing to resume talks with Israel following the submission of a request, expected later this month, to the UN general assembly for recognition as a “non-member state”.

Israel and the US are vehemently opposed to the move, which is expected to be passed by a majority of the UN’s 193 member states.


Abbas’ refugee return remarks ‘dangerous': Haniyeh

Palestinian leader takes on taboo topic by saying land must be relinquished, triggering debate from both sides

By Amy Teibel, The Associated Press/Vancouver Sun
November 05, 2012

The Palestinian president has set off a strident debate by shattering a once-inviolable taboo, publicly suggesting his people would have to relinquish claims to ancestral homes in Israel.

Mahmoud Abbas’ comments on the refugee issue, made in an interview on Israeli TV over the weekend, triggered hot responses from Palestinians and Israelis alike.

In Israel, it suddenly put the long-sidelined issue of peace talks back in the Israeli public’s consciousness ahead of parliamentary elections.

Palestinians have maintained for six decades that Arabs who either fled or were expelled from their homes during the fighting that followed Israel’s 1948 creation, as well as all their descendants, all have the right to reclaim former properties in what is now Israel.

Israel says a mass return of these people, believed to number some 5 million, would spell the end of Israel as the Jewish state. Also, Israel rejects the concept of a legal “right of return.”

In the interview, Abbas was asked about his birthplace of Safed – now a town in northern Israel. He told the interviewer that while he would like to visit, he doesn’t claim the right to live there.

“I am a refugee, but I am living in Ramallah (in the West Bank). I believe that the West Bank and Gaza is Palestine. And the other parts is Israel,” Abbas said in English. “I want to see Safed. It is my right to see it, but not to live there,” he said.

The comments were widely seen as an acknowledgment that return of all the refugees would be impossible. While Palestinian officials privately acknowledge that, they have been reluctant to say so in public. His adviser, Nimr Ham-mad, said Abbas was being “realistic.”

“He knows he can’t bring back 5.5 million Palestinian refugees to Israel,” Hammad said.

Some West Bank Palestinians were disappointed that their leader had made an overture to Israel without receiving any gestures in exchange.

“President Abbas is a failure,” said Iyad Alotol, a government employee in Ramallah. “He is ceding the right of return without getting anything from the Israelis. He is a man who makes concessions for free.”

Abbas, an outspoken proponent of a diplomatic solution with Israel, has little to show for his efforts. He has seen his popularity steadily decline in the West Bank, and in 2007, he lost control of the Gaza Strip to the rival Islamic militant Hamas. Condemnation of Abbas predictably was harsh in Gaza. Hamas rejects negotiations and believe only violence will persuade Israel to give up captured territory.

Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh termed Abbas’ remarks “extremely dangerous.” At demonstrations in Gaza on Saturday, some protesters burned posters of a smiling Abbas, and others emblazoned the word “traitor” on posters of the Palestinian leader. In Israel, Abbas’ comments were the talk of the town on Sunday, as officials debated how serious Abbas was.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and members of his Cabinet reacted coolly, even mistrustfully, to Abbas’ remarks. Israeli moderates warned against missing a chance to negotiate with a person they consider a partner for peacemaking.

The Abbas interview appeared to be aimed at soothing Israeli concerns before he goes to the United Nations later this month in hopes of winning “non-member state” observer status for a Palestinian state inside the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, which Israel captured in 1967.

Israel opposes the U.N. bid, accusing Abbas of trying to sidestep the negotiating process.


Abbas aides say Hamas outrage over right of return unfounded

Ma’an news
November 3/5, 2012

RAMALLAH (Ma’an) — President Mahmoud Abbas’ aides hit back Saturday against accusations from Hamas that the president had given up on the right of return in an interview with Israeli TV.

As Hamas premier Ismail Haniyeh reiterated his condemnation of Abbas’ remarks, political adviser Nimr Hammad noted that Haniyeh’s party also accepted the two-state solution.

Abbas was asked by Israel’s Channel 2 whether he wanted to live in Safed, his boyhood town in the Galilee region of what had been British-ruled Palestine and is now northern Israel.

“I visited Safed before once. But I want to see Safed. It’s my right to see it, but not to live there,” Abbas answered, in the interview broadcast on Friday.

“Palestine now for me is ’67 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. This is now and forever … This is Palestine for me. I am (a) refugee, but I am living in Ramallah. I believe that (the) West Bank and Gaza is Palestine and the other parts (are) Israel.”

Hamas immediately criticized the comments as undermining Palestinian refugees’ claim to their land, from which they were driven or fled during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

After Friday prayers, Haniyeh again slammed Abbas’ remarks as dangerous.

“Abbas doesn’t have the right to surrender a Palestinian, Arabic and Islamic state which is still under Israeli occupation,” he said in Gaza.

“No one has the right to surrender one span of Palestinian land and the right of return to our homes.”

But Hammad said Abbas was referring to his project to establish a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders, which Hamas has also indicated that it supports.

The right of return is sanctioned by international law, and the status of refugees after Palestinian independence will be decided in peace talks with Israel, he said.

“What was said is what is going to happen when the state of Palestine is established alongside Israel, and therefore the president never mentioned the word giving up the right of return,” he told official PA news agency Wafa.

He criticized Hamas for “selling illusions to our people” by protesting Abbas’ comments about Safed.

He urged “the reasonable and nationalist leaders in Hamas not to let the illusion-sellers play with the fate of our people, because they are looking for any excuse to maintain the division (between Hamas and Abbas’ Fatah party).”

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