Abbas Comments on Right of Return Spark Protests
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was asked in a recent interview on Israeli television, “Would you like to go to Safed?” Abbas responded, “I want to see Safed. It’s my right to see it but not to live there.” The city, located in northern Israel, was the place of his birth in 1935. Abbas continued saying, ”Palestine for me now is ’67 borders with east Jerusalem as its capital. I believe that the West Bank and Gaza is Palestine and the other parts is Israel.” His comments were widely perceived to be a concession on the tense issue of the Palestinians’ right of return. Thousands in Gaza reacted by protesting in the streets and chanting “Out, Out Abu Mazen.” Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh criticized Abbas saying, ”It is not permitted for anyone, whoever he may be . . . to give up one inch of this Palestinian land or concede the right of return to our land and homes from which we were expelled.” ”Hamas taking to the streets and doing all of this [protests] is an attempt to undermine the PLO and our attempt to go to the U.N.,” retorted Saeb Erakat, a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Meanwhile, Israeli President Shimon Peres commended Abbas’s words as an effort to show continued support for the two-state solution. “Abu Mazen’s courageous words prove that Israel has a real partner for peace,” Peres said. Khalil Shikaki, director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, indicated that his polls consistently show that a majority of Palestinians would support a deal in which only a fraction of the refugees were allowed back. However, 30 percent see the right of return as their “most vital goal,” second only to the establishment of a Palestinian state.