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Abbas aides say Hamas outrage over right of return unfounded

Nov. 3, 2012 2:29 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 5, 2012 9:24 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma’an) -- President Mahmoud Abbas' aides hit back Saturday against accusations from Hamas that the president had given up on the right of return in an interview with Israeli TV.

As Hamas premier Ismail Haniyeh reiterated his condemnation of Abbas' remarks, political adviser Nimr Hammad noted that Haniyeh's party also accepted the two-state solution.

Abbas was asked by Israel's Channel 2 whether he wanted to live in Safed, his boyhood town in the Galilee region of what had been British-ruled Palestine and is now northern Israel.

"I visited Safed before once. But I want to see Safed. It's my right to see it, but not to live there," Abbas answered, in the interview broadcast on Friday.

"Palestine now for me is '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. I believe that (the) West Bank and Gaza is Palestine and the other parts (are) Israel."

Hamas immediately criticized the comments as undermining Palestinian refugees' claim to their land, from which they were driven or fled during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

After Friday prayers, Haniyeh again slammed Abbas' remarks as dangerous.

"Abbas doesn’t have the right to surrender a Palestinian, Arabic and Islamic state which is still under Israeli occupation," he said in Gaza.

"No one has the right to surrender one span of Palestinian land and the right of return to our homes."

But Hammad said Abbas was referring to his project to establish a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders, which Hamas has also indicated that it supports.

The right of return is sanctioned by international law, and the status of refugees after Palestinian independence will be decided in peace talks with Israel, he said.

"What was said is what is going to happen when the state of Palestine is established alongside Israel, and therefore the president never mentioned the word giving up the right of return," he told official PA news agency Wafa.

He criticized Hamas for "selling illusions to our people" by protesting Abbas' comments about Safed.

He urged "the reasonable and nationalist leaders in Hamas not to let the illusion-sellers play with the fate of our people, because they are looking for any excuse to maintain the division (between Hamas and Abbas' Fatah party)."

Meanwhile, presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaineh said in a Ma'an TV interview that Abbas' point was that he will not accept a state with temporary borders, hence speaking clearly about the borders of a future Palestinian state.

"To accept a temporary state means to give up the right of return and national principles," he said.

Abu Rudaineh also had harsh words for Hamas, blaming them for stirring up trouble to cover their own "secret" political strategy, as he described it.

"This storm has been created by certain groups who want to provoke public opinions in order to overthrow the legitimate government and create an internal conflict," he said.

"This will only benefit certain groups who negotiate with Israel secretly and then come on TV to accuse the Palestinian leadership, just to cover up what they themselves are doing in secret."

Abbas' interview with Israeli TV was a not a negotiating table, but rather aimed to influence Israeli public opinion, the spokesman said.
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