Abbas Sparks Protests With Israel Comments

Seemingly innocuous remarks stir right of return passions

By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff

Posted Nov 5, 2012 9:45 AM CST

(Newser) – Protests broke out across the Gaza Strip this weekend, with angry Palestinians burning Mahmoud Abbas' picture in protest, as pundits and rival politicians denounced him as a traitor, all over what, to an outside observer, might sound like less-than-outrageous remarks. In a Friday interview on Israeli TV, Abbas was asked if he'd want to return to the northern Israeli city he was born in. Only to visit, Abbas replied; he wouldn't want to live in Israel.

Palestinians read the remark as a concession on the emotional "right of return" issue, the New York Times explains—Palestinians want the right to return to their pre-1948 homelands. Abbas yesterday clarified that he was speaking personally, and that the rights of refugees were "a sacred matter," but the topic had already caught fire, and could complicate his bid for UN recognition. Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed the remarks as unimportant, the Jerusalem Post reports. "This only proves the importance of direct negotiations without preconditions," he said. "I am ready to start negotiations today."

Palestinians march during a protest against president Mahmoud Abbas in the Jabaliya Refugee Camp, northern Gaza Strip, Nov. 3, 2012.
Palestinians march during a protest against president Mahmoud Abbas in the Jabaliya Refugee Camp, northern Gaza Strip, Nov. 3, 2012.   (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
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