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Shaath: Refugees have right to return to Israel (JERUSALEM POST) By KHALED ABU TOAMEH AND JANINE ZACHARIA 08/17/03) Source: http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/A/JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1061017192777
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Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath said Saturday the "right of return" of Palestinian refugees to their former homes inside Israel is no longer an "illusion."
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"We see no solution for our people in Lebanon other than the right to return to their homeland," Shaath said at a meeting Friday with Palestinians in a Beirut hotel.
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"There is no other political solution and the return to the homeland is guaranteed," he said. Speaking in Arabic, Shaath stressed that the Palestinian refugees should be allowed to return to their former villages and towns inside Israel. "Let me be clear. The right of return includes the return to the independent Palestinian state and to Palestinian cities inside Israel. Whether they return to Haifa or Nablus, the right of return is guaranteed."
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Shaath claimed that the right of return for Palestinian refugees is guaranteed by the road map plan for peace in the Middle East.
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"No condition has been set for a return [only] to an independent Palestinian state. The right of return is no longer an illusion. It is an integral part of the Arab peace initiative, which is one of the reference points in the road map," Shaath said, referring to the Saudi initiative adopted by the Arab League summit in Beirut in March 2002. Israel rejected Shaath´s comments, saying it would never allow Palestinians to return to Israeli towns and villages.
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"There´s no Israeli government that will ever accept it," said Prime Minister Ariel Sharon´s spokesman, Ra´anan Gissin. He said Shaath´s comments would undermine the peace process and PA Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas´s government. "There will be no Palestinian state so long as they continue to espouse the right of return," Gissin said.
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Israeli officials said the PA continues to mislead the Palestinian people about a right of return under the road map plan.
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Sources in the Foreign Ministry noted that, at the Aqaba summit in June, US President George W. Bush pledged that Israel would remain a Jewish state. "There will never be a right of return," a Foreign Ministry source said. "The Palestinians must stop the incitement and start implementing the road map, especially dismantling the terrorist infrastructure."
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Yossi Beilin, leader of the left-wing Shahar Party and a former negotiator in the Labor government of former prime minister Ehud Barak, said Shaath´s comments were "damaging" and "hurt the chances of seeing the road map carried out."
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"A solution to the refugee problem will include the possibility of settlement in their sovereign homeland, a Palestinian state," Beilin said. Health Minister Dan Naveh said Shaath´s comments showed the Palestinians had not abandoned their desire to destroy the State of Israel "since there is no other meaning to the right of return." Palestinian Authority officials said there was nothing new about Shaath´s remarks.
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"At the Camp David summit, Israel agreed to the return of several thousand refugees to their former homes inside Israel," said one official. "If anyone thinks that there can be a solution without the right of return, then he or she is living on another planet."
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Another Palestinian official said Shaath was apparently unaware that his statements would be quoted by one of the international news agencies. "In any case, this is the official position of the Palestinian Authority. Those who want to return to their former homes should be allowed to return and those who are prepared to accept compensation and settle elsewhere should be given money."
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Shaath later made a different statement upon arriving in Damascus from Beirut. He reiterated that all the refugees in Lebanon would be allowed to return to the future Palestinian state, but as for the right of return to Israel proper, Israelis and Palestinians would hold negotiations on this issue in the future.
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The road map spells out in its final phase that a final agreement should include "an agreed, just, fair, and realistic solution to the refugee issue."
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According to UN figures, there are some 380,000 Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon. Most of them are originally from villages in the Galilee. In a related development, hundreds of Palestinians participating in a conference in Ramallah Saturday issued a statement stressing that there would never be a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East unless all refugees are permitted to return to their original homes inside Israel.
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Entitled "No Alternative to the Right of Return," the conference said no Palestinian is authorized to strike any deal with Israel that gives up the refugees right to return.
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Representatives of refugees and Palestinian Authority institutions attended the conference, which brought together hundreds of families from the Ramallah area.
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Saji Salameh, speaking on behalf of the PLO´s department of refugee affairs, said the parley came to reaffirm the Palestinian people´s determination to hold on to the right of return. He said the Palestinians are united in their refusal to make any concessions on the right of return.
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Speakers at the conference condemned attempts by some Palestinians to compromise on the refugees´ rights, referring implicitly to Dr. Sari Nusseibeh, president of al-Quds University in Jerusalem, who has launched a peace campaign that calls for the return of the refugees only to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. (© 1995-2003, The Jerusalem Post 08/17/03)
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