Middle East

Palestinians won’t ‘flood Israel’ with refugees: Abbas

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, center, shakes hands with an Israeli student while standing next to Israeli Labor party lawmaker Hilik Bar, center right, following a meeting with a delegation of Israeli university students and activists at his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

RAMALLAH, Palestine: Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said Sunday he was not looking “to flood Israel” with returning Palestinian refugees, at a rare meeting with 250 Israeli students held in his West Bank headquarters. “Propaganda says Abu Mazen wants to flood Israel with 5 million refugees to destroy the state of Israel,” he told the group at his Muqataa presidential compound in Ramallah, referring to himself by his nickname.

“All we said is that we should put the refugee file on the [negotiating] table because it is an issue we must solve to end the conflict,” he told them, adding that any solution must be “just and agreed upon.”

“But we will not seek to flood Israel with millions of refugees to change its social character. This is a lie,” said Abbas, who is himself a refugee.

Resolving the question of the right of return for Palestinian families who were forced out of their homes during the war that accompanied Israel’s creation in 1948 is one of the most bitterly disputed aspects of the conflict.

The Palestinians have always demanded that the Jewish state recognize their right of return to homes in modern-day Israel in keeping with U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194.

But Israel rejects the idea, saying that it would erode the country’s Jewish majority.

There are approximately 5 million registered Palestinian refugees, mostly descendants of the original 760,000 people who fled or were forced out in 1948.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists that the Palestinians recognize Israel as “the state of the Jewish people” in a move to ensure the refugee issue is resolved within the borders of a Palestinian state.

But the Palestinians have dismissed the demand, saying they recognized Israel in 1993 under the Oslo Accords and insisting it is not for other nations to define a state’s national or religious character.

The refugees’ fate is one of the core disputes under discussion in peace talks currently being brokered by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 17, 2014, on page 9.




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