Abbas Says May Step Down Once Palestinian State Established

Palestinian president says if he achieves all his political goals, including establishing independent state, he will go into retirement.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in an interview published on Saturday that he may step down this year if he achieves all his political goals, which include the establishment of a Palestinian state.

"When I was elected my program was: greater security, economic and social development, achieving (Palestinian) reconciliation, and then independence of our state," he said. "This year there is the possibility of achieving all this. Then I will go into retirement."

Mahmoud Abbas

Abbas also said Saturday that the Palestinian leadership will never give up the right of return, adding that through "practical steps" they will return the Palestinian people to their homeland, which is their "final destination."

His statement came on the eve of what Palestinians call Nakba, or catastrophe, now marked each year on May 15, to commemorate when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were forced to leave their homes in 1948 following the creation of Israel.

In an interview with the Italian newspaper la Repubblica ahead of a trip to Italy, Abbas restated that in the absence of progress in peace negotiations with Israel, which have been frozen for months, the Palestinians will unilaterally seek statehood recognition from the United Nations in September.

"If there is no progress in the talks, our second choice is going in front of the United Nations," he said.

Abbas was elected president in 2005 and has said he will not seek another term in a ballot already years overdue.

Last week his Fatah faction signed a deal with the rival Islamist group Hamas that is meant to end a four-year-rift and reunite their now-divided administrations in the West Bank and Gaza, paving the way for new elections.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has condemned the unity pact "as a tremendous blow to peace".

Abbas said Hamas, whose charter calls for Israel's destruction, cannot be excluded from the peace process.