Abbas Deemed It 'Illogical' for Israel to Absorb 5 Million Refugees, Palestine Papers Show

Secret documents released on Monday detail Palestinian-Israeli agreement specific number of refugees who would be allowed to return as part of final peace settlement.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas agreed that it would be "illogical" to ask Israel to absorb 5 million refugees as part of a final peace settlements, according to the latest details of secret negotiations obtained by Al-Jazeera and shared with The Guardian.

Over 1,600 Palestinian documents on peace talks with Israel, which cover more than a decade of exchanges provide a unique look into the breakdown of the peace process, particularly with regard to the 2008 negotiations during Ehud Olmert's tenure as prime minister.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
Daniel Bar-On

The second round of disclosures on Monday shed more light on the Palestinian negotiators' willingness to settle on a right of return for a total of only 100,000 out of some 5,000,000 refugees and their families.

"On numbers of refugees, it is illogical to ask Israel to take 5 million, or indeed 1 million," Abbas said, according to the details of the Palestine papers. "That would mean the end of Israel."

The Palestinian president told members of his negotiating team in March 2009 that during talks with 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.

Sources close to the negotiations said that the Palestinians had in turn 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.