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Palestinian leader Abbas violates taboo on refugees
JERUSALEM (AP) — 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.
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.
In the interview, Mr. 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,” Mr. 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.
Some West Bank Palestinians were disappointed that their leader 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.”
Mr. 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.
Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh termed Mr. Abbas‘ remarks “extremely dangerous.” At demonstrations in Gaza on Saturday, some protesters burned posters of a smiling Mr. Abbas, and others emblazoned the word “traitor” on posters of the Palestinian leader.
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