Mahmoud Abbas
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Photo by AP
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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Saturday that he had not given up on his demand for the Palestinian right of return, clarifying remarks he made in an interview with Israel's Channel 2 two days earlier.

In an interview seen as conciliatory to Israel, the Palestinian president had said that although he is a refugee from Safed, he does not intend to return to the city as a resident - if anything, he would visit as a tourist.

"Palestine for me is the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as the capital, this is Palestine, I am a refugee, I live in Ramallah, the West Bank and Gaza is Palestine, everything else is Israel."

But in a follow-up interview with the Egyptian media outlet Al-Hayat on Saturday, Abbas emphasized that those remarks reflected his own personal opinion and should not be taken as policy:

"What I said about Safed is my personal stance. It means nothing about giving up the right of return," he said. "No one would give up their right of return. But all those international formulas, especially that of 194, speak of a just and agreed-upon solution to the refugee issue, and 'agreed-upon' means on the part of Israel."

The Palestinian president's interview aroused harsh criticism and demonstrations within the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Deflecting criticism, Abbas told Al-Hayat on Saturday that certain media outlets – particularly Al-Jazeera, chose to screen only short excerpts of the interview in a move to taunt him.

He emphasized that nothing he had said in the interview should be seen as a gesture to Israelis alone. "What I tell the Palestinians is no different than what I say to the Israelis, to the Americans, or to anybody else," he said.

Abbas, who also told the Israeli channel that there would never be a third intifada as long as he was president, emphasized in his interview with Al-Hayat that he always opposed the armed uprising, and that he was elected for that platform. He stressed his belief that the armed uprising had been a mistake.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly responded to Abbas' clarifications, saying that the Palestinian president had tried to deceive the Israeli public in his interview with Channel 2.

"I watched President Abbas' interview, and have heard that since then he's already managed to go back on his words," said Netanyahu. "This only underscores the importance of direct negotiations without preconditions."

Netanyahu also told ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem that he was ready to sit down for negotiations with Abbas as soon as the latter wanted. "Ramallah is seven minutes away, and I am ready to begin negotiations today."

Lieberman, too, dismissed Abbas' clarifications: "What's important is what Abu Mazen [Abbas] tells his own people in Arabic, and not what he tells the Israeli public in English."

At the cabinet meeting, Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar echoed criticism that Abbas was attempting to interfere in elections: "This isn't the first time the Palestinians have done this," he said.