One of the main issues on the negotiating table regarding peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians is the Palestinian right of return. In a drastic shift, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has hardened his stance on the matter and said that he would not negotiate away any right of Palestinian refugees and their descendents to return to Israel.
In a speech Saturday to Palestinians in East Jerusalem, Abbas reiterated that he would not agree to peace unless East Jerusalem was the future capital of the Palestinian state. He also refused once again to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
The issue of Palestinian right of return is a fairly “new” topic being discussed during the peace process. The Palestinian position on the right of return follows language used in the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative which is based upon UN Resolution 194. Resolution 194 was adopted on December 11, 1948 and defines principles allowing for a final peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, including Palestinian refugees returning to their “homes”.
During Saturday’s speech, Abbas said: “Let me put it simply: the right of return is a personal decision. What does this mean? That neither the PA, nor the state, nor the PLO, nor Abu-Mazen, nor any Palestinian or Arab leader has the right to deprive someone from his right to return.”
Abbas believes that “the right of return is a personal right” and that mechanisms should be put in place that would allow Palestinians to choose whether to stay in their current locations or return to Israel.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has been brokering peace negotiations between the two sides and has made ten trips to the region. So far, his framework of peace seems to be crumbling. Commenting on the latest round of peace talks, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro said that Netnyahu and Abbas are essentially disagreeing on almost key principles of the framework.
Abbas has adopted the slogan “millions of martyrs are marching to Jerusalem,” echoing a favorite sentiment of former PLO leader Yasser Arafat.
“Millions of heroes, or millions of free men are marching to Jerusalem. We want to go alive. We do not seek death, but welcome martyrdom if it happens,” Abbas told his audience.
News of Abbas’s “three no’s” has thrown peace negotiations for a loop. Sources close to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Netanyahu told U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on Monday that Abbas is clearly not ready to make the decisions needed to continue talks with Israel and make peace.
Actions from the Palestinians have also shown the true intentions of where the peace process is headed. Monday, right after the conclusion of Ariel Sharon’s funeral, Hamas launched rockets into southern Israel. The trajectories of the rockets were headed towards the location of the funeral. The two rockets fell in an open area near the border fence.
The IDF warned terrorists in the Gaza Strip before the funeral that “today is a very bad day to test.” The Iron Dome Missile System was set up around the location of the funeral to protect mourners from possible rocket attacks.
IDF Spokesman Peter Lerner said: “The terrorists and their infrastructure operating in the Gaza Strip will not succeed in their grotesque intentions…Hamas and its terrorist servants are not immune; it is our moral obligation and calling to protect Israel against such atrocious acts.”
In response to the rockets, the Israeli Air Force struck targets in the central Gaza Strip. Israel Radio reported that targeted areas were associated with Islamic Jihad. No injuries were reported.
In the face of the recent attacks and Abass’s hawkish views, Biden told Israeli President Shimon Peres that “the one place where there is a possibility for an island of stability…is between the Palestinian people and the Israeli people in two secure states, respecting one another’s sovereignty and security.”