Abbas Stirs Controversy Over TV Interview

Palestinian groups reacted angrily to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas saying he apparently was giving up on the previously intransigent Palestinian demand that of millions of refugees be allowed to move to Israel.

“Palestine now for me is the ’67 borders with east Jerusalem as its capital. This is now and forever. This is Palestine for me,” Abbas said in the interview on Israel Channel 2 television. “I believe that the West Bank and Gaza is Palestine and the other parts is Israel,” Abbas said.

Abbas said although he was born in the northern Israeli city of Safed “It is my right to see it, but not to live there.” The comment was interpreted in Israel as a major shift in Palestinian policy, which has demanded that a future peace treaty must allow millions of Arabs to move into Israel, not just a future Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the controversy "only proves the importance of direct negotiations without pre-conditions.”

“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,” Netanyahu said at the start of Sunday’s cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. “I will take this opportunity to again call on President Abbas to return to the negotiating table without pre-conditions because peace may be advanced only around the negotiating table and not via unilateral decisions in the UN General Assembly, which will only push peace further away and will only lead to instability.”

Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been deadlocked for the past four years, during which Netanyahu has repeatedly called for the resumption of direct negotiations without preconditions.

Abbas’ comments were harshly criticized in Gaza by leaders of the Hamas terrorist organization that rejects any consideration of peace with Israel. Hamas leader in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh called the comments “extremely dangerous,” and thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in Gaza burning pictures of Abbas. Hamas seized power in a bloody 2007 coup and has demanded Abbas cancel all agreements with Israel.

The Palestinian Authority issued a statement denying Abbas was changing policy, saying “the president had never mentioned the words ‘giving up’ the right of return.” Abbas said the Palestinians intend to seek non-member nation status at the U.N. later this month, perceived as a move to bypass the negotiations and avoid having to deal with both the split with Hamas and the contentious issues yet to be resolved.

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