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May 28, 2003

Abbas to Haaretz: We won't relinquish the right of return

Exclusive interview by Abbas to Haaretz
Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (AbuMazen) said in an exclusive interview with Haaretz that the Palestinians will not relinquish the
"right of return" they claim, but that the issue should only be discussed in permanent-status talks.

Abu Mazen also said he would not be satisfied with merely a hudna, or Islamic truce, but wants "absolute calm" from Hamas. As to what he thinks of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's recent pro-road map comments, Abu Mazen will just say that he's withholding judgment until he sees some action. "Implementation," he said, "is the only test as far as I'm concerned."

The sensitive refugee issue is known to be particularly close to the heart of Abu Mazen, himself a refugee from Safed. "We cannot accept relinquishing the right of return," he said. "The Arab League initiative refers to a just and agreed solution, based on UN decisions. That is a very clear statement."

But then he added immediately, "this does not mean we want to destroy the state of Israel - we recognize it in the borders drawn by [Resolution] 242."

Abu Mazen also said that agreement on the right of return is not a condition for negotiations. The "refugee problem is a subject for discussion in the permanent-status negotiations and should not be brought up as a precondition," he said.[more]