Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas stated Thursday that he was not seeking the right to live in Israel, even though he was born in Safed, in remarks that implied a moderated stance on the longstanding Palestinian demand for a “right of return” to Israel for millions of refugees and descendants of refugees.
Abbas also said explicitly that the Palestinians have no territorial demands on Israel in its pre-1967 lines.
Asked in a Channel 2 News interview what he considered to be Palestine, Abbas responded that “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.”
Interviewer Udi Segal cut in: “Sometimes your official television… speak(s) about Acre and Ramle and Jaffa [all cities within sovereign Israel] as ‘Palestine.’”
“I believe that [the] West Bank and Gaza is Palestine,” said Abbas, “and the other parts (are) Israel.”
Noting that he himself was born in Safed, in what since 1948 has been northern Israel, Abbas said he had visited the town and would like to see it again, but not to make his home there. “It’s my right to see it, but not to live there,” he said, in comments that, if applied to all Palestinian refugees and descendants, would represent a dramatic shift in Palestinian policy.
The formal Palestinian demand for a “right of return” to Israel for millions of Palestinians and their descendants who used to live in what is today Israel has been a key obstacle in peace talks. An influx on that scale would radically shift Israel’s demographic balance, so that it was no longer a Jewish state — a process no foreseeable Israeli government would sanction. Israel has said the Palestinians must permanently house their refugees in a Palestinian state whose modalities must be negotiated with Israel, just as Israel absorbed Jewish refugees from North Africa and the Middle East.
An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman was quoted by Reuters as responding that if Abbas “wants to see Safed, or anywhere else in Israel, for that matter, we would happily show him anywhere. But there has to be a desire to move forward on the peace process.” Since Abbas is not an Israeli citizen, the spokesman said, “he doesn’t have a right to live in Israel. We agree on that.”
In the interview, whose moderate content contrasted deeply with the bitterly hostile speech the PA head delivered to the United Nations General Assembly a month ago, Abbas urged Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to return to the negotiating table. His only condition was that Netanyahu declare his agreement to a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders, he said.
Abbas indicated that he represented the final chance for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. “As long as I am here in this office, there will be no armed third intifada,” he promised, “never.”
“We don’t want to use terror,” Abbas said. “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 noted, however, that he did intend to seek an upgrade in status for “Palestine” at the UN General Assembly. And he criticized Israel’s continued settlement construction in the West Bank.
He also criticized rocket fire from the Gaza Strip into Israel and said Hamas had no justification for launching the attacks.
Segal said Abbas was giving the interview to reach out to Israelis over the heads of their politicians. Abbas expressed disappointment in the leaders of Israel’s so-called peace camp, and said he does not know Labor Party head Shelly Yachimovich and that she has never requested a meeting with him.
Abbas also denied rumors that PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has resigned his post.