Abbas backtracks on giving up right of return

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said he was talking about himself and not PA policy when he indicated that he would give up on his demand for the Palestinians’ right of return.

In an interview Friday night with Israel’s Channel 2, Abbas said he would not demand the right to live in Safed, which he left in 1948, saying he would visit as a tourist. The right of return for displaced Palestinians is a key sticking point in stalled peace negotiations.

Abbas also said that he viewed a Palestinian state as existing only in the pre-1967 borders and promised there would be no third Palestinian intifada while he is in power. He called on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to restart negotiations from the premise that a Palestinian state would be formed in the West Bank and Gaza with eastern Jerusalem as its capital.

"Palestine for me is the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as the capital, this is Palestine, I am a refugee, I live in Ramallah, the West Bank and Gaza is Palestine, everything else is Israel," Abbas told Channel 2.  

On Saturday, Abbas clarified in an interview with the Arabic al-Hayat newspaper out of Egypt that he was speaking about himself when referring to the Palestinian right of return and not about the policy of the Palestinian Authority.

At the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu referred to Abbas’ remarks.

"I have heard that he has already managed to go back on his remarks," Netanyahu said. "This only proves the importance of direct negotiations without preconditions. Only in direct negotiations will it be possible to clarify what the true positions are.

"Generally, I can say that if Abu Mazen is really serious and intends to advance peace, as far as I am concerned, we can sit together immediately. Jerusalem and Ramallah are only seven minutes apart; I am ready to start negotiations today."

Israeli President Shimon Peres called Abbas’ interview "a brave and important public declaration."

Abbas, Peres said, ”has proven through his deeds and his words that Israel has a real partner for peace. Abu Mazen rejects terrorism, guarantees that under his leadership he won’t allow the outbreak of a violent third intifada, understands that the solution to the Palestinian refugee issue cannot be in Israel’s territory and to the detriment of Israel’s character, and stretches out his hand to Israel to restart negotiations."

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