A storm has been stirred up in the political establishment in Israel and the territories following the weekend interview of Palestinian Authority Chairman Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) by Israeli Channel 2's Friday night news magazine, during which he intimated that he was willing to give up the right of return. While Israeli President Shimon Peres said the statement showed that “Israel has a true partner for peace,” Hamas members in the Gaza Strip staged demonstrations against the “Rais,” burned pictures of him and called for his overthrow.
“As long as I am here in this office,” Abu Mazen told Udi Segal in the interview, “I will not let another intifada to erupt. There will be no third armed intifada, never. We will employ diplomatic means and act in peaceful ways only.”
Abu Mazen’s statement in the interview that, notwithstanding his status as a refugee from Safed, he does not demand the right to return and live there, could be interpreted as implying the renunciation of the right of return. “Palestine now, for me, is the state along the [pre-]1967 lines, with East Jerusalem as its capital — living side by side with the State of Israel,” the Palestinian Authority chairman said.
At the same time, Abu Mazen reiterated his intention to appeal to the UN to officially recognize the Palestinian state and upgrade its status in the UN institutions to that of a non-member state.
“Is this a unilateral move?” he wondered. “Talking about unilateralism, what Israel is doing, carrying on construction in the settlements, these are unilateral steps.”
“Abu Mazen understands very well that the Palestinian refugee problem cannot be solved within Israeli territory and that the [demographic] nature of Israel cannot be destabilized, and he has reached out to Israel to renew the peace process,” President Peres noted yesterday, commenting on the statements made by the Palestinian Authority chairman.
“What he said is of great significance,” Peres said, adding that “we should all take it with the utmost seriousness. It is a courageous and highly important declaration, where the Palestinian Authority chairman makes it clear that the state he aspires to set up would be established in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip alone, and not in Israel proper.” The praises Peres lavished on Abu Mazen were seconded by Zahava Gal-On, the chairperson of Meretz party.
With reference to the interview, it was stated by the Prime Minister’s Office that “Prime Minister Netanyahu’s proposal to meet with Abu Mazen without any preconditions still stands. As to Abu Mazen’s statements, there is no connection between what he is saying and what he is actually doing. For four years now, he has been refusing to renew the negotiations with Israel, in spite of the series of steps taken by the prime minister, such as the unprecedented freeze on construction in Judea and Samaria. Furthermore, Abu Mazen refuses to discuss the security arrangements essential for the protection of the citizens of Israel.”
Minister of Education Gideon Sa’ar (Likud), who is a member of the political-security cabinet, voiced doubt as to the sincerity of Abu Mazen’s declarations and argued that “the Palestinian Authority is not really interested in a Palestinian state as a solution to the conflict, but is rather using it to carry on the conflict from a better position from its point of view.”
Dr. Aryeh Bachrach, a bereaved parent from the Almagor Terror Victims Association, lashed out against Peres for the praises he bestowed on Abu Mazen. “For a minute there, we thought that the indefatigable saboteur [as Peres was dubbed by late Israeli premier Yitzhak Rabin] has already realized his mistakes, the same way the majority of Israelis have recognized the failure of the Oslo process,” Bachrach said.
As mentioned above, Hamas staged raging rallies in the Gaza strip in condemnation of “Abu Mazen’s renunciation of the right of return to Palestine.” Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said that Abu Mazen’s statements were “extremely dangerous and damaging to the six million Palestinian refugees.” Salah al-Bardawil, one of Hamas’ senior officials, went as far as to argue that Abu Mazen lost the right to represent the Palestinian people. Al-Bardawil called on the “Rais” to publicly apologize to the Palestinian people for his statements.