Mahmoud Abbas declared to Israel’s Channel 2 news that it is his right to visit Safed but not to live there. He asserted, “Palestine now for me is the ’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 New York Times hailed Abbas’ comments as a “surprising concession on the demands of Palestinians to return to their pre-1948 homes.” Israeli President Shimon Peres even called Abbas “courageous,” claiming that his words “prove that Israel has a partner for peace.”

However, within a day after Abbas made these statements to the Israeli media, he backtracked when speaking to the Egyptian media. According to Egypt’s Al Hayat TV Channel, Abbas stated, “My words about Safed were a personal position, and they do not indicate a relinquishment of the right of return, since it is not possible for anyone to give up the right of return, because the wording of all the international and the Arab and Islamic resolutions states that a just and agreed solution must be found to the refugee problem based on [UN Resolution] 194.” He continued by proclaiming that “the right of return is holy and no one can deny it.”

In actuality, UN Resolution 194 states, “the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date.” Israelis interpret this verse to mean that they get to determine which Palestinians don’t desire to “live at peace” with their neighbors and which date is “practicable.” Arab leaders, however, claim that this verse grants them a comprehensive right of return to Israel, without taking into consideration the wording of the text and the fact that UN General Assembly resolutions in general are not considered binding under international law.

In fact, there is no basis for a Palestinian right of return if one examines international law as well as international precedent. Nevertheless, Abbas’s declaration that a “just and agreed solution must be found to the refugee problem based on 194” and that “the right of return is holy” implies that he still supports the Arab interpretation of this UN resolution and no concession in fact has been made.

The reactions of the Palestinian street to Abbas’ Channel 2 interview, where mass protests occurred in Gaza against the vague hint that Abbas might be willing to compromise, demonstrates that the Palestinians are not willing to concede on this issue. Furthermore, assertions made to the Israeli press do not hold the same weight as declarations given to the Arab media and only the repeal of the Law of Return of the Palestinian Refugees would demonstrate a true concession and seriousness about the peace process. Any thing short of that should be interpreted as utterances intended to “affect Israeli public opinion,” as Abbas’ own spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh explained.

Reported by: Rachel Avraham for United With Israel

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