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Abbas Won’t Give Way on Refugee “Return” Even If He Gets State

Those inclined to blame Israel for the lack of peace in the Middle East like to talk about the necessity of a two-state solution. But as much as a scheme that left  Jewish and Palestinian Arab states living in peace with each other might seem like the only way out of the century-long conflict, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas gave us yet another reminder yesterday about the problem with merely focusing on the creation of a Palestinian state. As the Jerusalem Post reports, in an interview with a Jordanian newspaper, Abbas made it clear even if the General Assembly of the United Nations voted to recognize an independent Palestinian state in the 1967 lines, the PA would continue to insist on the “right of return” for Arab refugees to swamp Israel.

If he gets his way, Abbas will have a Jew-free state in the West Bank and Gaza next to a Jewish state that will have to live under the threat of being deluged with Palestinians who would transform it into yet another Arab state. That helps explain why he continues to refuse to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state. But, along with this promise of unending strife, Abbas’ statement also points to another issue that explains why his UN initiative represents more of a danger to the PA than it does to Israel.

As Khaled Abu Toameh explains in the Post, if the General Assembly does vote in favor of the Palestinian statehood resolution, it won’t actually create such a state, but it will raise the question of whether or not the PA could be said to still represent the interests of the millions of descendants of the 1948-49 refugees who are still kept in camps by Arab nations. They are currently represented in New York by the Palestine Liberation Organization’s UN observer office. But if the GA votes in favor of statehood then that status will be transferred to the PA, which is the putative government of the West Bank, though not Gaza, which remains under the thrall of the Hamas terrorist movement.

Considering the PLO created the PA after Israel allowed Yasir Arafat back into the territories after the 1993 Oslo Accords, this may strike those not immersed in the legalisms of the UN as confusing. But the transference of representation from the PLO to the PA may actually complicate the efforts of Abbas to try to legally represent the refugees.

Abbas’ remarks about not giving up the right of return also illustrate the zero-sum nature of the conflict from the Palestinian frame of reference. Abbas still balks at recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn. Left-wing critics of Israel dismiss this as a non-issue, but the PLO and the PA it spawned came into being fighting against the existence of Israel before the so-called “occupation” of the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinian national identity is inseparable from the idea of opposing Zionist sovereignty over any part of the country and of returning refugees to pre-1967 Israel.

This is why Abbas and his predecessor Yasir Arafat have always refused Israeli offers of an independent state no matter the terms. Though their UN gambit is creating legal problems for the PA, the refugee issue shows it must nonetheless stick to it simply because Abbas’ overriding imperative is to avoid peace talks at any price.


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