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Abbas gives his views on land swaps, on return of 6 million refugees, and recognition of Israel as Jewish state

The Egyptian newspaper Akhbar Al-Youm interviewed PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
Q: “Approximately 18 months ago, I was present at a meeting of the committee of the Arab Peace Initiative in Washington, in the presence of [US Secretary of State John] Kerry and [US Vice President Joe] Biden. Kerry spoke of a land swap, and there was no agreement among the Arab ministers. I then called [former Secretary-General of the Arab League] Amr Musa, who confirmed that no change had been made to the Arab Peace Initiative. Where, then, did the land swap come from?
PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas
: “In principle, we do not oppose the principle of land swaps, on the condition that they [the territories] are equivalent in size and value. Take a land whose value is known, and give me land in exchange in a way that the West Bank remains as it is. I held negotiations with [former Israeli prime minister Ehud] Olmert, and he said to me: ‘We’ll swap territories, and you will get an extra 20 kilometers in addition to the West Bank, but commensurate in value and size.’ We didn’t agree then, and he ‘left.’”

: “And the talk about the territory?”
PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas: “Equivalent in value and size. Territories will be exchanged, but there is a basic precondition: That Israel recognize the June 4, 1967 borders. It is inappropriate, for example, for it [Israel] to take [land] in Jerusalem and give us [land] in the Negev. At the time, he [Olmert] made me a ‘proposal from hell,’ from his point of view: To give me the Triangle (a concentration of Israeli-Arab towns and villages adjacent to the Green Line in northern Israel), with all its inhabitants. [This land] was occupied in 1949, when its population was 38,000. Today, its population is certainly 400,000. I said: ‘I won’t take a single one, forget it.’ This was because, frankly, I won’t allow or force any Arab to renounce his Israeli citizenship. This might surprise you, but frankly, this is an important issue. As far as I’m concerned, this issue is sacred. For example, the fourth phase of Palestinian prisoners (i.e., prisoners that were arrested before the Oslo Accords and were due to be released according to an agreement with Israel in March 2014) included 30 [prisoners], 15 of whom were from the 1948 territories (i.e., Israel). They [the Israelis] told me: ‘Take them to the West Bank, and they will renounce their citizenship.’ I told them: ‘Impossible; they must return home and keep their citizenship’ – because as I see it, it is a sacred thing for Arab citizens to keep [their] Israeli citizenship.”

“But Mr. President, in the end, the result of this rift within Israel is that Tel Aviv will hold new elections, and we are seeing that elections in Israel [usually] strengthen the right wing, which holds an extremist position on Palestine. So what use is it?”
PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas: “We are aware of this; but the political rift is in our favor. The situation has changed; the European position before 2013 was not what it is now, but now there is a change, and European countries have emerged that say that the occupation is illegal and unacceptable, and they have begun to boycott Israeli goods. By the way, [Netanyahu’s] declarations are very similar to those of Hamas (they are both the same) [parenthesis in source], and so the talk of a Jewish state – in the context of this rift, we cannot recognize it. It is inconceivable, and we will stand against this plan, not just out of stubbornness, but because it is against our interests. The first to be hurt by this law will be a million and a half Arabs, who will leave Israel because of the law and their religion. The first to condemn this law were the Druze, because there is also a loyalty law, which states that one must pledge allegiance to the State of Israel in order to join the army, apply for membership to the Israeli Parliament, and enjoy [certain] privileges. There is an additional reason, which is that [under the Nation Law] refugees are forbidden to return. There are six million [Palestinian] refugees still waiting to return – and by the way, I am one of them. Therefore, creative solutions must be [found], because one cannot shut the door in the face of those wishing to return. Israel is striving for a Jewish state and IS is striving for an Islamic state, so we are caught between Islamic extremism and Jewish extremism. After the establishment of a Jewish state, [IS leader] Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi will have an excuse to establish an Islamic state, and this is another story we are suffering from and will continue to suffer from.”

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