Hamas Urges Palestinian Refugees to Protest Over Concessions on Right of Return

Palestinian negotiators were open to accepting resettlement of only a nominal number of refugees in Israel, papers leaked by Al Jazeera reveal.

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Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar urged Palestinian refugees to protest late Monday night, following a document leak by the TV new station Al Jazeera which revealed that Palestinian negotiators had conceded on the Palestinian right of return during negotiations with Israel.

According to the document, which is one of roughly 1,600 Palestinian documents on peace talks with Israel released in what has become known as the "Palestine papers", Palestinian negotiators conceded to settle on a right of return for a total of only 100,000 out of some 5,000,000 Palestinian refugees and their families.

A Palestinian youth carries a container with drinking water at Shati refugee camp in Gaza City.Credit: AP

The rest of the documents, which cover more than a decade of exchanges and provide a unique look into the breakdown of the peace process, are set to be released gradually.

According to the papers, Palestinian negotiators were open to accepting the resettlement of only a nominal number of refugees in Israel, a symbolic gesture as part of a peace deal.

This concession is a contradiction of the long-held demand that all Palestinians displaced by Israel's creation in 1948 and their descendants - millions of people - return to their homes.

The papers quoted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas agreeing that it would be "illogical" to ask Israel to absorb 5 million refugees as part of a final peace settlement. According to Abbas, "That would mean the end of Israel."

The Papers further stated that the Palestinian president told members of his negotiating team in March 2009 that during talks with former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the two sides had agreed on a specific number of refugees that could return to Israel. He stipulated that most Palestinian refugees must be allowed to return to a Palestinian state and gain citizenship.

Abbas said that Israel had suggested allowing 5,000 refugees to return over a course of five years, but that the Palestinian Authority had ruled that option out of hand and instead requested that 10,000 refugees be allowed to return every year over the course of ten years – bringing the total to 100,000.

During Abbas' recorded conversation with the Palestinian negotiating team, one of the members asked the president whether he – as a Nazareth-born Arab with Israeli citizenship – would also be accepted as a Palestinian citizen.

Abbas surprised the team by saying that as a refugee himself, his strategic answer was no. It would be preferable to "stay where you are and preserve your community", Abbas told the inquirer, adding: "You don't need a passport to prove you are Palestinian."

The newly disclosed papers also detail that the Palestinians were willing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state – despite recent declaration to the contrary.

"If you want to call your state the Jewish State of Israel you can call it what you want," Erekat said to Israeli negotiators, telling his own staff in private negotiations that it was a "non-issue."

Abbas on Monday denied offering secret concessions to Israel and said that reporting of the purportedly leaked documents had presented Israeli positions as those of his own negotiators.



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