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Netanyahu skeptical of Abbas comments on refugee return
Published Sunday 04/11/2012 (updated) 06/11/2012 10:16
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Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the opening of
the winter session of the Knesset. (Reuters/Baz Ratner, File)

JERUSALEM (Reuters) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voiced skepticism on Sunday at President Mahmoud Abbas' remark on Israeli TV that he did not seek to permanently return to his native Safed.

Abbas's comments on Thursday that he had no permanent claim on the town, from which he was driven during a 1948 war, were seen as hinting he was dropping a demand for a right of return of Palestinian refugees to homes now in Israel.

"I watched President Abbas's interview at the weekend, and I heard that since then he has already managed to recant," Netanyahu told his cabinet, urging Abbas to return to direct peace negotiations, suspended since 2010, to clarify his positions.

Abbas's remarks, to Israeli Channel 2 TV, were also interpreted by some commentators as an attempt to soften his defiance of Israel and the United States over his plans to ask the UN General Assembly to upgrade the Palestinians to a non-member state.

Touching on the refugee question - one of the most emotional issues for Palestinians in their dispute with Israel - Abbas told Channel 2 television: "I visited Safed before, once. But I want to see Safed. It's my right to see it, but not live there."

Israeli President Shimon Peres, a Nobel Peace laureate who has little influence on the policies of Netanyahu's right-wing government, swiftly praised Abbas over his Channel 2 interview.

"(His) courageous words prove that Israel has a real partner for peace," Peres said in a statement.

But in the Gaza Strip, seized by Hamas Islamists from Abbas's Fatah group in 2007, thousands rallied against the Palestinian leader. Hamas said no one can "cede the right of return" or "a single tract of the land of Palestine."

On Saturday, Abbas clarified to Egypt's al-Hayat television: "Speaking about Safed was a personal position and it did not mean conceding the right of return."

Addressing his cabinet on Sunday, Netanyahu called on Abbas to re-engage without preconditions.

"Peace can be advanced only around the negotiating table, and not through unilateral resolutions at the UN General Assembly, which will only put peace further away and bring about instability," Netanyahu said.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, whose far-right Yisrael Beitenu party is running jointly with Netanyahu's Likud in a Jan. 22 general election that opinion polls show the prime minister will win, said Abbas "can no longer deliver the goods" since he lost Gaza to Hamas.

The last peace talks collapsed in 2010 after Netanyahu refused to extend a 10-month partial settlement construction freeze.

Palestinians have demanded that as many as five million of their compatriots - original war refugees and their descendants - be granted the right of return to towns and villages that became part of Israel after its founding in 1948, as per international law.

Israel, saying an influx of refugees would eliminate its Jewish majority, has proposed that refugees be resettled in a future Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, territories it has occupied since a 1967 war.
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1 ) Mel / Gaza
04/11/2012 14:59
"Speaking about Safed was a personal position...". If Abbas doesn't believe in the right of return or the Palestinian cause 'personally' or can he claim to represent the Palestinian people?

2 ) LOLOL like any good arab he / talked one thing in ENGLISH
04/11/2012 15:52
and the OPPSITE IN ARABIC hard to believe an arab.

3 ) sami / tunisia
04/11/2012 17:47
Abbas has no rite to speak to behalf of the palsestinian regugees. Maybe he doesn't care about the return of 5 million palestinians but we care to return today before tomorrow and live in our home land. Abbas was forced to speak with channel 2 by the sides of the americans which forced him to speak exactly how he did. Since when Abbas speaks English ? But Hillary thought him few words via the phone which made him talk that day

4 ) Feras / UK
04/11/2012 23:18
Mr. Abbas can say whatever he likes, Mr. Netanyahu can comment however he prefers. The fact and the matter is that the Right of Return of the Palestinian People to their homeland is sacred, beyond any discussion. Peace, no peace, justice or injustice, Israel or no Israel, the Right of Return is not a topic up for discussion in front of a piece of paper or a TV reporter. Whether 5 million or nobody WANTS to return does not matter, it is (and always will be) their right. And our duty...

5 ) ian / australia
05/11/2012 04:06
Reichsfuhrer Netanyahu (pictured) is "skeptical" and FM Lieberman is accusing Abbas of trying to (shock, horror) influence the Israeli election. Translation: they are both freaked out by Abu Mazen's interview and esp. the "bombshell" about Safed. Their whole campaign is built on the threat Israel faces from crazy Arab extremists and how THEY are the tough leaders (the ones who "understand Arabic") the country needs. Genial, moderate Abu Mazen, a refugee of '48, declining graciously to act upon

6 ) ian / australia
05/11/2012 04:08
(contd.) his own PERSONAL right of return (to Safed), doesn't fit the narrative. It shows they are wrong (also nuts, and dangerous) and a lot of (reasonable) Israelis (and many others) watched it.

7 ) Robby / USA
05/11/2012 16:15
4 ) Feras / UK - That's awfully bold words from someone who was not born into the Arab apartheid system they call refugee camps.

8 ) r cummings / uk
05/11/2012 19:32
All refugees have an inalienable right under international law to return to their homes and start their lives over, including Palestinians driven out of Israel in 1948 under plan dalet. It is non-negotiable and no political party or state can give away their rights. The fact that Israel continually tries to dodge around international law says a LOT about Israel.

9 ) r cummings / uk
05/11/2012 19:57
Jeeze, 'would risk endangering the Jewish majority in Israel'??? The last person who went big on having a racial majority sensibly poisoned himself in a bunker before the long arm of justice could seize him. The parallel universe some Jews inhabit is not dissimilar. No regret or even misgivings about the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Arabs by Jews in 1948, none at all about the creation of a 2-race state, where Jews are privileged and Arabs are second-class citizens, none regarding Israel's ...

10 ) R cummings / UK
05/11/2012 21:38
occupation and rape of a neighbouring state, no shame about breaking int'l laws to pursue a racist, ideological chimera. Likud Israel is very similar to Nazi Germany in these respects. Bibi is as wrong now as Adolf was then, the demographics of a nation determine its future profile, not the antics of one racial group which tries to clamber to the top of the food chain. Once the red mist of racism and fascism have passed, Is will be a multi racial, multi faith society like every other democracy.

11 ) gabi / australia
06/11/2012 01:52
# 9 - spot on! If you deny the Holocaust in some cases you can go to jail. But if you deny the Nakba - well, who cares? Israel was granted UN status by Resolution 271 on the basis that it agreed to abide by UN Resolution 194 - to allow the right of return OR pay just compensation. Neither has happened because Israel then immediate refused to comply with either promise. And that photo of Netanyahu! There it is again. I wonder if he's trying to look like that, or is it just an unfortunate pose
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