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      Abbas Still Insisting on 'Right of Return' for Arabs

      Speaking at a festive meal in the midst of negotiations with Israel, the Fatah leader wants a "just" solution for the millions of "refugees."
      By Hillel Fendel
      First Publish: 10/7/2007, 1:52 PM

      Even as Israeli officials say the PA is nearing recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) still demands "return" for millions of Arabs into Israel.

      "I don't want 'peace at any price,'" the Palestinian Authority leader said at a festive meal marking a Ramadan break-the-fast meal, "but rather a peace as called for by legitimate international [UN] decisions."  He then laid down some of his conditions: "There won't be a [Palestinian] state without Jerusalem... We want, without word games, an end to the conquest of the lands from 1967..."

      Abbas then implied that the influx of millions of misplaced persons and their descendants to Israel was also a condition, saying he demands a solution based on UN Resolution 194.  Article 11 of that resolution resolves that "the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible."

      Abu Mazen said that the "Arab [League] initiative - which became part of the Roadmap [it is mentioned in passing in the Roadmap's introduction - ed.] and then became UN Security Council Resolution 1515 [which calls for the implementation of the Roadmap - ed.] - speaks of a just and agreed-upon solution for the problem of the refugees, based on Resolution 194."

      "If we return to these decisions," Abbas continued, "there will be a just solution - but does the other side [Israel] agree to this just solution?"

      The above statements by Abu Mazen fly in the face of Israeli government announcements last week to the effect that Abu Mazen agrees that Israel must remain a Jewish state.  It is a matter of consensus in Israel that the influx of even a small percentage of those claiming to be Arab refugees from 1948 would spell demographic disaster for Israel's decreasing Jewish majority.

      Background on the Refugees
      On April 27, 1950, the Arab National Committee of Haifa stated in a memorandum to the Arab States: "The removal of the Arab inhabitants [in 1948] was voluntary and was carried out at our request... The Arab delegation proudly asked for the evacuation of the Arabs and their removal to the neighboring Arab countries." It should also be noted that the estimated 550,000 Arab refugees of 1948 include tens of thousands who moved into what became Israel in the years just before its establishment.

      Abbas Talks of Return to Tzfat
      Abu Mazen told the Washington Post last week that it is "my right" to return to his birthplace in Safed (Tzfat), "but how I will use this right is up to me and to the refugees and to the agreement which will take place between us."

      Israeli journalist Yosef Evron, whose cousin was among those who fell in the War of Independence battle for Tzfat, wrote an open letter to Abu Mazen explaining why, in actually, he [Abu Mazen] has forfeited his right to return to the Israeli Galilee city:

      "Your 'right of return' was lost for eternity upon the conclusion of the War of Independence...  If you can restore to life all the people who fell defending the city of Tzfat, with their wives and children, against a bloodthirsty mob of Arabs - including, most certainly, your family members - who fell upon these innocents while crying out, 'Itbah al-Yahud - Slaughter the Jews!'  First restore to life my childhood friend and cousin, Ze'ev Cohen, who had just turned 20 when he was killed while defending the Metzudah area.  The same way you can do this, so will you be able to return to your home in Tzfat."

      The 1948 battle for Tzfat began after the Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini, who was living at the time in Lebanon, planned to move to Tzfat after the British departure and declare the establishment of an Arab-Palestinian state with Tzfat as its first capital.  Only 2,000 Jews lived there at the time, compared to 12,000 Arabs, and for five months, up until May 1948, the Jews were relegated to a small and besieged ghetto.  The Arabs continually attacked it, and in fact over 50 Jews, including 20 Palmach fighters, were killed during this period by the Arab marauders.

      In the letter, which is addressed to Abbas but is also meant for the younger generations of Israelis that do not realize the hardships involved in establishing the State of Israel, Evron writes that nearly 1% of the Jews living in Israel at the time were "killed in the battles that you forced upon us.  6,000 of our best men, women and youths were left dead in the fields and paths.  The 'right of return' of the refugees of 1948 - whose number has grown disproportionately over the course of the years - is no longer yours.  It was lost forever with the 6,000 dead that you caused us, and the thousands of wounded and cripples.  Life flows in one direction, ya Abu Mazen.  There is no way back; just like the 6,000 cannot be revived, so too the houses of the '48 refugees, or their descendants, cannot be returned to them.  As they say in Arabic, ili fat - mat (what has passed is dead)!"

      Preparations for the Summit
      The United States is arranging an international Middle East summit near Washington late next month to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian situation and begin implementing the two-state solution.  Senior Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmed told the Arabic newspaper "Al Sharq Al-Aussat" that on Monday, Oct. 8, Israeli and PA negotiating teams would begin official talks regarding the formulation of a mutual pre-summit announcement.  A basic disagreement already divides the parties, in that Israel wishes to address the issues in general, while the PA demands specific Israeli concessions on the matters of final borders, Jerusalem, the future - or lack thereof - of Jewish towns in Judea and Samaria, refugees, the PA military, and water.

      Israel is wary of Abbas' recently-announced plans to renew talks with Hamas.  If the talks are merely on humanitarian issues, some officials have said off the record, Israel could ignore it - but others say that if the secret Cairo talks deal with a Hamas-Fatah re-alliance, Israel will call off its own talks with Fatah.

      92% is not Enough
      Abbas told the Washington Post last week that he would not accept the 92% - though some say it was as much as 98% - of Judea and Samaria that then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered Yasser Arafat eight years ago.  "We will be flexible," he said.  "But before 1947, we had 95% of Palestine. In 1937, the partition plan gave the Israelis only part of Palestine. And they were very happy at that time. [David] Ben-Gurion was very happy with it. It didn't work. After that [came] the 1947 partition plan - we rejected this, so we lost... [We should have taken it.]  Now, we accept [the pre-'67 borders]."