Palestine: President Abbas Abandons Palestinian Right of Return

In an interview given to an Israeli television station, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has relinquished his “right of return” to his birth town Safed, now a district in Northern Israel.

“It’s my right to see it [Safed], but not to live there,” said Abbas. “I believe that [the] West Bank and Gaza is Palestine, and the other parts (are) Israel,” he added.

What is the Palestinian Right of Return?

Abbas's declaration represent a blow to and an abandonment of the Palestinian “right of return.” Supporters of this principle believe that tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees and their descendants have the right to return to the home towns they were displaced from, and reclaim any property they were dispossessed off as a result of the 1948 occupation of Palestine and the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Indeed, during the 1948 Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine , as described by Israeli Historian Ilan Pappe, hundreds of Palestinian villages were destroyed and tens of thousands of Palestinians were forcibly expelled from their homes by the Jewish paramilitary organizations Haganah and Irgun in order to establish the State of Israel.

Also, as a result of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, during which Israel fought its Arab neighboring states of Egypt, Syria and Jordan, thousands of more Palestinians were displaced out of Gaza Strip and the West Bank, when the Israeli forces occupied these territories.

According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the number of Palestinian refugees is estimated at 5 million. For decades, the formal Palestinian demand for the “right of return” to what is today known as the State of Israel has represented a key obstacle in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. A Palestinian return on such a scale would drastically shift Israel's demographics and increase the Palestinian population there at the expense of the Jewish one, something Israel would not allow to happen.

Social Media Reactions:

Munnera, a Palestinian living in Qatar, tweets:

#Abbas speaks for himself and only himself. Palestinians will never give up their ‘right to return’.

Rafeef Ziadah, a Palestinian performance poet and activist based in London, shares the same view:

Abbas does not speak for any Palestinian refugee, we did not elect him…

Shaima asks whether Abbas is giving up on the Palestinian demand of the “right of return”:

#Abbas says he has no right to return to the place of his birth (Safed) as a resident but visit it as a tourist. Is he conceding the ROR [right of return]?!

“My name is Zina, I will return to my home town Ijzem in Haifa”, “My name is Yasmin, I will return to my home town Ijzem in Haifa” photo via twitter user @SafaAMadi

Abbas’ declarations did not surprise Ahmed Masoud, a Palestinian writer and academic, also living in London.

Why is everyone surprised about what #Abbas said but never do when he goes to negotiate? The guy sold out ages ago #Palestine #Belfour

Asa Winstanley, Electronic Intifada editor called Abbas Kalb [Arabic for dog] for such televised renouncement. He writes:

Abbas goes on Israeli TV and personally renounces his right to return. And yet he still didn't grovel enough for Israelis. Bow lower, kalb [dog]

On Electronic Intifada, Nour Joudah, a Palestinian teacher based in Ramallah, answered Abbas:

My father is almost 80 years old and he has more than the right to visit Isdoud. I, and my siblings, have more than the right to see the grass of where a village once stood. I have the right to return and rebuild Palestine from the ground up. All of it. And so does every refugee and their descendents.

The kids from Safad living in Shatila and Ein el-Hilweh, and all the camps of Lebanon, are not dreaming of your Ramallah, Mr. President. They are dreaming of their Safad.

If I or they want to sign away our right of return, we will let you know.

Don’t mistake your people’s exhaustion and frustration for surrender. Don’t mistake the young people’s re-organizing and re-acquainting themselves with their own history for lack of vision.

Balfour Declaration:

Abbas’ televised statements coincided with the 95th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration of 1917, considered as “the first significant declaration by a world power in favour of a Jewish “national home” in what was known as Palestine”.

The declaration (dated 2 November, 1917) was a letter written by the then British Foreign Secretary, Arthur James Balfour and addressed to Lord Rothschild, a leader of the Jewish community in Britain. In the letter, Balfour expressed the British “sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations” and approval of the “establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”.

Asa Winstanley tweets:

The 95th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration that led to the destruction of Palestine. I have unending contempt for British Empire

He adds:

As a Welshman I feel I must point out it's a disgrace David Lloyd George was the Prime Minister responsible for the Balfour Declaration

Twitter user @Tsharrafna commented:

#Abbas’ treacherous statements coincided with the anniversary of history's most treacherous incident: the Balfour Declaration. #Balfour


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