From the Balfour to the Abbas Declaration
By: Fadi Abu Saada
Published Saturday, November 3, 2012
A flood of reactions from Palestinians after PA President Mahmoud Abbas makes controversial statements on Israeli television.
Ramallah – Arthur Balfour made his famous declaration in 1917 and promised to give Jews a national homeland in Palestine on behalf of the British Mandate. Balfour has been cursed by Palestinians ever since.
His promise led to waves of immigration, some of which Britain considered to be illegal. The end result was that the new immigrants expelled the Palestinians from their land and took their place.
Almost one century into the tragedy hastened by the declaration, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was asked on an Israeli news show if he would like to live in the town of Safed, located in occupied Galilee. It was where he grew up when Palestine was still under British Mandate.
“I visited Safed once, but I want to see Safed. It is my right to see it, but not to live there,” he said. “Palestine now for me is [the] 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. This is now and forever. This is Palestine for me. I am a refugee, but I am living in Ramallah. I believe that the West Bank and Gaza is Palestine, and the other parts are Israel.”
The President’s comments prompted angry reactions from many Palestinians, both politicians and citizens alike, especially on Facebook.
Al-Akhbar sampled some of the opinions of ordinary Palestinians in Ramallah.
“We must not exaggerate the issue, at least on the weak Palestinian side. Of course the statement is unwelcome, but I doubt that it is the choice of Palestinians,” Issa Rishmawi said.
“These promises are the main cause of Palestinian problems in negotiations. Abbas doesn’t have the ability to make statements that reflect the true nature of the PLO,” he continued. “We are used to defeatist statements from many Palestinian officials. But what worries me is that this time it came from the head of the PLO Executive Committee.”
Sami Awad said, “The Palestinians are today remembering the first international treason against them, followed by other betrayals and conspiracies that have not yet stopped.”
Haitham Abul-Atieh, a refugee, said, “The Balfour declaration happened in 1917, but it cannot give ownership of Palestinian land to those who do not deserve it.”
“The promise has been kept ever since that date, with the support of Arab regimes, specifically those that claim to be in the resistance camp,” he maintained.
“Abbas made an explicit promise to Israel that the refugees will not return when he said that the Palestinian state’s borders are those of 1967 and the other parts are Israel,” he added.
“So, Palestinians who were expelled from their lands cannot return to live there. In the best case, they can visit a place that was once theirs and now is for the Israelis,” Atieh said. “The two promises are not very different in content.”
Fadi Aruri, a Palestinian citizen, wrote Abbas a letter. He said that he “was not a refugee, nor tasted the bitterness of displacement.”
“But I embraced Jerusalem only twice. I have never set eyes on another Palestinian city my entire life, but I will not give up my full right to clutch my homeland’s soil,” he said. “We have been negotiating since 1948 and to this day nobody recognizes us. Not with the 1948 nor the 1967 borders. We are living off the crumbs of our last intifada.”
Journalist Walid Batrawi wrote, “I did not hear or see the supposed interview. The Israeli press leaked only some of it. Notice how they only leaked the complicated issues.”
“People reacted before seeing the whole interview. Israel has achieved it goal. Let us watch the whole interview and put it in context before we protest and curse,” he said.
In the Gaza Strip, the Hamas government denounced the declarations made by Abbas saying “he speaks only for himself.”
“Palestinians will not agree to renounce their right of return to the homes, villages, and towns, from which they were displaced,” said Hamas spokesperson in Gaza, Sami Abul-Zahri. He added that if Abbas did not want Safed, then Safed will be honored not to receive him.
Rami Shbeir, a 30-year-old salesman from Gaza, said, “Abbas’ statements do not represent the Palestinians. They are expressions from a person who pawned himself to the occupation. We reject such statements. They do not represent our thoughts or our feelings.”
Mohammed Saikaly, a 27-year-old Gaza resident, said, “Abbas wronged the Palestinian cause through many statements and positions. Negotiating with Israel was the biggest mistake. We do not want Abbas to apologize, but to step down from Palestinian politics.”
Ismail al-Ashqar, a member of Hamas’ leadership, said, “Abbas renounced the Palestinians and their rights. This should not be allowed.”
“Abbas has linked himself to the Oslo agreement and the settlement with Israel. He believes he will achieve something for the Palestinians. But we say to Abbas, stop this farce. Stop toying with the Palestinian cause,” said Ashqar.
Khodor Habib of the Islamic Jihad said the group was “shocked by the statements from Abbas. Such statements are not appropriate given the symbolism of his position.”
“These are personal opinions that only represent him as an individual. We tell him that Palestine is ours as a whole and will return to us one day,” he said.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.