It began with the fact that no one in Israel’s election campaigns has been talking or even mentioning the 2-state solution and the Palestinians as a serious part of the national debate. Everyone, including left wing parties like Meretz and Labor, are talking about social justice, equal share in the national burden, Iran – the Palestinians are all but forgotten.
In an attempt to reignite this topic in the Jewish marketplace of ideas, slogans, and points of contention, PA President Mahmoud Abbas sat down to a serious, no-holds-barred interview with Israel’s Channel 2 TV’s Udi Segal, which was broadcast Friday night.
In that interview, Abbas declared that, as long as he is in charge, there won’t be an armed third Intifada, and, even more striking, that, as a native of the city of Tzfat (Safed), he would love to visit there, but does not expect to return to live there – it is strictly Israel.
We’re enclosing the video, in which the anchorman’s intro is in Hebrew, Segal’s questions are in English, and Abbas starts off with answers in Arabic (with Hebrew subtitles) but then switches to English. I recommend that you endure these language difficulties, to see for yourselves just how emphatic the Palestinian president is about those points.
On the question about living in Safed, Abbas tells Segal: “I visited Safed before once. But I want to see Safed. It’s my right to see it, but not to live there. 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.”
For all intents and purposes, the president of the PA was giving up on the Palestinian right of return to pre-1967 Israel. It’s huge, since the right of return was one of the issues that broke the 2000 Camp David deal between Ehud Barak and Yassir Arafat.
That was on Friday.
Israeli President Shimon Peres was ecstatic in praising Abbas as a courageous partner for peace. He told the press on Saturday that Abbas’s “courageous words prove that Israel has a real partner for peace. These are significant words … We must all treat them with the utmost respect.”
In other words, the Palestinian state is not a dead and gone issue, it is very much alive, kindly start talking about it to the voter, complete with discussions of settlement freezes and redrafting the zone where Jews may choose to live in their homeland.
It could be trouble, if not for the old principle coined by the late Abba Eben, about how the Arabs never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine leader Rabah Mhanna had a radically different take on the Abbas interview. “Abbas doesn’t have the right to surrender on these principles,” he told Reuters. “Abbas with his remarks lives in a dreamland and tries to beg for the American and Israeli position to hope to gain something.”
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri also denounced Abbas, saying “no Palestinian would accept ceding the right of our people to return to homes, villages and towns from which they were displaced.”
“If Abu Mazen (Abbas’s nom de guerre) does not want Safed, Safed would be honored not to host people like him,” Abu Zuhri added.
On Saturday, Fatah leader in Gaza Yahya Rabah said that the Palestinian UN bid for non-member status does not affect the right of return for Palestinian refugees, never mind what Abbas was telling Channel 2.
Rabah told Ma’an that the Palestinian Authority is seeking recognition as a state under occupation, pointing out that the right of return is enshrined under article 11 of UN resolution 194.
The resolution states that Palestinian refugees should be allowed to return to their homes and compensation must be paid to those that choose not to, Rabah said.
Of course, that resolution is more than 60 years old, so it stands to reason that those displaced Palestinians have, for the most part, been displaced to a better (or worse) world, and that 194 does not speak of inherited refugee rights. UN 194:11 reads: