Palestinians in Lebanon Angry, Not Surprised Over Abbas Statement

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas talks to Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani and Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussaو during an Arab foreign ministers follow-up meeting at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo 2 March 2010. (Photo: Reuters - Tarek Mostafa)

By: Jana Yasmin Nakhal

Published Monday, November 12, 2012

Abbas’ recent statement on Israeli TV seemingly brushed aside Palestinians’ right of return. Palestinian refugees in Lebanon expressed little surprise over this statement, saying that their situation has little significance in the eyes of their supposed leaders.

While Palestinians are busy harvesting olive trees that are under constant threat of Israeli uprooting, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas is provoking outrage over his apparent relinquishing of the Palestinians' right of return.

In an Israeli TV interview earlier this month, Abbas said he has a right to “see” but not live in his ancestral village of Safad. Palestinian refugees in Lebanon reacted to Abbas' recent statement with a mix of anxiety, condemnation, apathy, and some shy support.

A 50-year-old Palestinian man says he is not sure what to make of Abbas' remarks, but he is not shocked. "Don't ask me, ask my mother who knew and lived in Palestine," he says when asked for his reaction. "But the series of concessions are nothing new, though the words he used were surprising.”

Another Palestinian named Luay says that he too was not surprised by Abbas’ statement. He says that most of his friends and work colleagues did not even hear about it.

"It was as if this man no longer represents them," Luay says. "Besides, the confidence [in Abbas] did not exist in the first place."

Other than a small protest last Friday that rejected abandoning the right of return, Abbas' remarks did not provoke Palestinians to take to the streets in outrage.

"Maybe because the concessions and negotiations started a long time ago and the shock left us when we were still children," Luay adds somewhat bitterly. "What is happening now was imminent."

Another young man says that since the negotiations between Hamas and Israel started in Egypt, people are even more frightened and concerned for their future, particularly the refugees in the camps who are the “most affected by these negotiations since their rights will be the first to be relinquished.”

It seems that the priorities of the Palestinian leadership have gradually changed over the years, Palestinians say.

"The policies of successive leaders consolidated significant concessions, abandonment, and mistakes," remarks one refugee. "Then the priority became to find housing, work, and livelihoods, which are also important. But the PA's policies, in addition to the policies of the host countries, pushed the Palestinian situation to this stage."

Attempts by Fatah and its supporters to justify Abbas' statements and alleviate the brunt of his words by insisting that the people misunderstood him or that he is under extreme pressure were apparently unconvincing.

One young man says that Abbas sacrificed the right of return in order to obtain recognition of Palestine at the United Nations.

Another young woman cuts in, laughing: "How can someone work for recognition of a state that he already gave up?"

Reactions from other young men and women to what Abbas said are clearly colored by skepticism over his legitimacy as their president, not to mention a sense of confusion towards what “right of return" actually means.

A blogger named Hafez from the Palestinian town of Tulkarem vented his frustration with the drawn-out negotiations. "If Naji al-Ali were alive today, he would have used explosives instead of ink to draw [his cartoons]," he wrote.

Hafez's comment represents the widening gap between the PA and the people, whose sense of helplessness has reached a breaking point.

When the PA's official discourse is seen as having reached unprecedented levels of defeatism, surrendering Palestine's historic land and the rights of refugees in the diaspora, the question is whether the Palestinians in the diaspora will start a movement demanding an end to direct and indirect negotiations.

Many say there is popular support for such a movement, but point out the difficulty of doing so under the unstable security and political conditions in the Arab world.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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