April 2, 2014 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1081

Mahmoud 'Abbas To Israelis And West: No Flood Of Refugees To Israel, Would Accept U.N. Designation Of Israel As 'Jewish State'; 'Abbas To Palestinians And Arabs: Refugees Have Personal Right Of Return, Rejection Of Israel As 'Jewish State'

April 2, 2014 | By C. Jacob*
Palestinians | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1081


April 29 will mark the end of the time period for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA). Thus far, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has not managed to achieve a breakthrough, and the administration continues its efforts to formulate a framework agreement that would enable the negotiations to go on, despite the PA's objections to extending the talks beyond the deadline.

PA and Fatah officials, such as PLO Executive Committee members Hanan 'Ashrawi and Ahmed Qurie', criticized the Americans' framework agreement idea as being vague, for allowing each side to add reservations, and as favoring Israel. 'Ashrawi said: "This is not a real agreement if every side can express reservations. If there are disagreements on the proposed topics, it means there is no agreement."[1] Qurie' said: "The U.S.'s position regarding some of the fundamental issues, including the borders, Jerusalem, and settlers, are unclear, despite Palestinian demands for clarity... The attempt to muddy the language will not help either side." He accused Kerry of "preferring suggestions that sound nice to Israeli ears instead of relying on U.N. resolutions."[2]

The sides have yet to receive the draft of the framework agreement. PA President Mahmoud 'Abbas stressed that even if a peace agreement with Israel is eventually signed and approved by PLO institutions, it will be brought to referendum among all Palestinians throughout the world. He also said that he intends to continue negotiations: "We have yet to receive the framework agreement but we will continue the negotiations ... despite objections and claims that it is a meaningless waste of time."[3] On the other hand, one of the chief negotiators who resigned, Muhammad Ishtayeh, estimated that the negotiations are destined to fail, and stressed: "We will not continue negotiations a single day beyond April 29, 2014."[4]

During his visit to the U.S. and his meeting with President Obama, 'Abbas maintained his objection to recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, so that the negotiations are currently at an impasse. There is also no certainty that Israel will carry out the fourth round of prisoner release.

This document reviews the PA's political positions and focuses on the difference between Abbas's statements to sympathetic audiences such as the Palestinians and Arabs – which match the PA's positions – and his more conciliatory and flexible positions that he conveys to Israeli audiences.

Indeed, when addressing Israeli audiences, 'Abbas emphasizes his consent to a demilitarized Palestinian state and to cooperation between Palestinian security mechanisms and the U.S. and Israel as evidence of his desire for peace; when addressing Palestinian audiences, he emphasizes his firm objection to a Palestinian capital confined to parts of East Jerusalem, states that no Israeli will remain in the Palestinian state, and even talks about martyrdom for the sake of Jerusalem.

PA President Mahmoud 'Abbas (image:

The PA's Official Positions

The PA's official positions in the negotiations with Israel were delivered by the president's spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh. He said that the principles serving as the basis for any solution were stated in a letter from 'Abbas that was delivered to President Obama by John Kerry, and they are:

- The borders of the Palestinian state are the 1967 borders. Israel must withdraw from all Palestinian territories occupied in 1967. The withdrawal can be carried out gradually over 3-4 years.

- East Jerusalem is the capital of the Palestinian state.

- Resolving the refugee problem based on UN resolutions and the Saudi initiative – a just and agreed-upon solution based on Resolution 194.

- The PLO recognized Israel and therefore there is no reason to recognize it as a Jewish state.[5]

The Positions Gaps And Abbas's Tailored Statements

Borders And Security

Abbas's position on security and borders is clear, uniform, and unequivocal: 1967 borders with limited land swaps, and consent to the deployment of foreign peacekeeping Forces, such as NATO forces. When addressing Israelis, 'Abbas expressed his understanding of Israel's sensitivity to security needs, and when speaking to the foreign press he spoke of a demilitarized state; when addressing Palestinian audiences, he stressed Israel's withdrawal from the territories without leaving a single Israeli behind.

Speaking to hundreds of Israelis in Ramallah, 'Abbas said: "Israel is very sensitive to security. We appreciate its sensitivity and its fears for the future and [fear] of radicalization. Therefore, we will bring a third party to our country to preserve regional security, both ours and the Israelis'. We have agreed that the third party will be the NATO alliance. I offered this to Olmert because NATO forces are your allies and will ensure security both here and there. Thus Israel can be assured regarding its security and future."[6]

At the same event, 'Abbas also said: "We have said that the borders of the Palestinian state would be based on the June 4, 1967 borders and we did not reject the possibility of limited land swaps at a 1:1 ratio. We made a concession to ease the defining of borders."[7] As for the period of withdrawal to the 1967 borders, 'Abbas said the withdrawal could be gradual but must take no more than three years.[8] In an interview with The New York Times he extended the period to five years and stressed that the Palestinian state would be demilitarized.[9]

However, speaking to Palestinian students in Ramallah, 'Abbas said: "Every stone laid and house built after 1967 are illegal and we will not recognize them," and added: "When we sign the agreement, Israel will gradually withdraw, and at the end of that period no Israelis will remain."[10] At a meeting of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, he said: "[The Israelis] must leave the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 with small mutual corrections [i.e., mutual land swaps equal] in size and value."[11]

The Right Of Return

Regarding the right of return, 'Abbas told a Palestinian audience that no one could decide the Palestinians' fate for them since it is a personal right. On the other hand, he told an Israeli audience that he does not intend to flood Israel with refugees.

Speaking with a delegation from East Jerusalem in Ramallah, he said: "The Palestinian refugees' right to return to the 1948 borders is a personal right, like marriage. Each Palestinian will decide what he wants to do." He added: "The right of return is a personal right. No country, authority, organization, or even Abu Mazen or [other] leaders can deny anyone of his right to return." According to him, "there will be options and the refugee will choose. There is restitution and other details, but even a father cannot forgo his children's right. We must ask the person [concerned], because it is his personal right."[12]

'Abbas made similar statements to Palestinian students in Ramallah: "The right of the refugee is a personal right, meaning that if you and your sons are refugees, even if you forgo [the right of return] and your son disagrees, or vice versa, then he is free [to do as he pleases]. When we say it is a personal choice, [it means that] he is the one who will choose. [He may] remain where he is – in Jordan, Syria, or anywhere else – and receive restitution. [Alternatively,] he can go to another country with its consent – say, immigrate to Canada – and receive restitution. Wherever he goes he will remain Palestinian. He may [also] decide to return to the state of Palestine and receive restitution, or to return to Israel and receive restitution. These are the options we give the Palestinians and they will choose. If you want to settle here, you are welcome. If you want to settle there, you are welcome. If you want to return and receive an Israeli citizenship, [that is possible]. Someone asked me: How [could we receive] Israeli citizenship? I said: You are returning to the state of Israel. After all, the refugees, numbered at five million, and their children – were all expelled from the 1948 territories. There is no refugee from Nablus or Ramallah. They are all from Tiberius, Acre, Safed, Nazareth, Jaffa or Beersheba. If you want to return to Israel and receive an Israeli citizenship or not – you are free [to decide]."[13] Speaking to the Fatah Revolutionary Council, 'Abbas said that countries that host refugees – Jordan, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq – are also entitled to restitution.[14]

Addressing Israelis visiting Ramallah, 'Abbas spoke in a different tone on the topic of refugees, stressing that he did not wish to flood Israel with them: "There is propaganda that claims that Abu Mazen wants five million refugees to return to Israel in order to destroy it. This is baseless. We only put the issue of the refugees on the negotiating table because it is a sensitive matter that must be resolved in order to end the conflict, and so that the refugees are pleased with the peace agreement. In any case, we do not wish to flood Israel with millions and change its demographic makeup. That is nonsense and what was written in the Israeli press is untrue. We will put the problem on the table to reach a creative solution. The Saudi-led Arab peace initiative of 2002, which is considered the most important and serious peace initiative since 1948, says that, if Israel withdraws and there is a just and agreed-upon solution to the refugee problem, Arab and Islamic countries will normalize their relations with it. The solution will be with Israel's understanding and consent. When we say 'a just and agreed-upon solution' we mean that no one imposes a solution on the other. When the solution is acceptable to all, everyone is pleased. We cannot ignore reality and say it does not exist; rather, we need a solution."[15]


According to assessments, John Kerry intends the framework agreement to include a clause mentioning "a Palestinian state with a capital in East Jerusalem." This has angered Palestinians, who repeatedly stress that all of East Jerusalem would be the capital of Palestine, not just parts of it or its suburbs.

Speaking to an Israeli audience, 'Abbas stressed that Jerusalem would not be divided but would have two municipalities with an appropriate coordinating body. To Palestinian audiences he spoke of [martyrdom] for Jerusalem and repeated a portion of Yasser Arafat's militant slogan: "Millions of martyrs march towards Jerusalem."

Speaking to the Palestinian audience, he said: "Occupied Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine, since without it there will be no solution. No one is authorized to sign [such an agreement]." He added: "Without East Jerusalem as Palestine's capital there will be no peace between us and Israel. I heard that they object to mentioning Jerusalem in any negotiations or talks. They can say what they like... Jerusalem is not Abu Dis; Abu Dis is part of Jerusalem... We do not desire death but we will gladly welcome martyrdom if it comes. We march towards Jerusalem as millions of free heroes."[16]

In a March 6, 2013 meeting with Palestinian students in Ramallah, 'Abbas said: "When we discuss the capital of Palestine we do not mean Abu Dis, Beit Hanina, or any other village around Jerusalem. We mean East Jerusalem – the capital of Palestine... Our capital is East Jerusalem that was occupied in 1967... Our principles [state that] East Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine. There is nothing to prevent Jerusalem from remaining open, with coordination between both parts, but each side will know what is his."[17]

To the Israeli audience 'Abbas said: "East Jerusalem was occupied in 1967 and we want it to be the capital of Palestine. We do not want Jerusalem divided again. [We want] an open Jerusalem. We will establish [a Palestinian] municipality here and an Israeli municipality there, with one coordinating body above them... This is the start of true coexistence between the two peoples."[18]

Recognition Of Israel As A Jewish State

It seems that the Israeli demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state is the main obstacle on the path to a framework agreement. 'Abbas refuses to even discuss this topic and has also rejected a softer phrasing, calling Israel "the homeland of the Jewish people."

To Palestinian audiences, he presented a total objection, while to Israeli youths he claimed that if the UN decided that Israel were a Jewish state, then the PA would obey that decision. 'Abbas has the backing of the Arab League on this topic, which has stood by the PA and said on March 9, 2014 that Arab countries "totally object to recognizing Israel as a Jewish state."[19]

To a Palestinian audience 'Abbas said: "This issue was not heard in the past, but [emerged] only two years ago... We will not recognize [Israel as a Jewish state], we will reject this, and it is our right to not recognize the Judaism of the state. We have many reasons that prevent [us] from doing so, and we have already presented them to Israel."[20]

On a different occasion, 'Abbas told students in Ramallah: "We will not recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and this is not due to stubbornness. I have recognized Israel since the mutual recognition between Yasser Arafat and Rabin. We recognized Israel and they recognized the PLO. Nothing has changed since then, and we only heard about this [demand] two years ago... We say this consciously and out of firm conviction that we will not agree to this matter. This is clear. To those who claim that the Jewish state was mentioned in the [1947] partition plan, I say: Give me everything that was said in the partition plan, not just part of it..."[21]

Speaking to the Fatah Revolutionary Council, he said: "Israel never asked any country in the world to recognize it as a Jewish state, but it is asking the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, or as 'the state of the Jewish people' or 'the Jewish homeland' – which all constitute recognition of the Jewish state. Why do they ask this of us?"[22]

On the other hand, 'Abbas told an Israeli audience: "In 1993 Abu 'Amar [Yasser Arafat] recognized Israel, and from then until 2009 we constantly said we recognized Israel. Then they started playing a new tune – 'the Jewish state' – [and saying] 'you ['Abbas] must personally recognize Israel [as a Jewish state]. And this why? To make peace. [But I say to the Israelis:] You made peace with Egypt and did not ask for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, and the same with Jordan. Why do you want this from us? Go to the UN and ask to be called whatever you wish. Go to the UN General Assembly, submit a request and say: We want to call ourselves as we wish. If you receive a UN resolution, we will obey. Why do you ask this of me? Is it not to thwart the peace process[?] Olmert did not ask to recognize the Judaism of the state, and neither did the Oslo Accords."[23]

*C. Jacob is a research fellow at MEMRI.


[1] Al-Ayyam (PA), February 20, 2014.

[2], February 20, 2014.

[3], March 7, 2014.

[4], January 22, 2014.

[5] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), February 12, 2014.

[6] WAFA (PA), February 16, 2014.

[7] WAFA (PA), February 16, 2014.

[8], January 29, 2014.

[9] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), February 4, 2014.

[10], March 7, 2014.

[11] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), March 13, 2014.

[12] Al-Sabil (Jordan), January 11, 2014.

[13], March 7, 2014.

[14] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), March 13, 2014.

[15] WAFA (PA), February 16, 2014.

[16] Al-Sabil (Jordan), January 11, 2014.

[17], March 7, 2014.

[18] WAFA (PA), February 16, 2014.

[19], March 9, 2014.

[20] Al-Sabil (Jordan), January 11, 2014.

[21], March 7, 2014.

[22] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), March 13, 2014.

[23] WAFA (PA), February 16, 2014.

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