Accepting the principle of a Palestinian “right of return” is a complete non-starter for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, government officials said on Wednesday.
The comments came in response to Chinese news agency Xinhua’s report that US Secretary of State John Kerry proposed to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that he agree to Israel’s allowing into the country some 80,000 Palestinian refugees as part of a final peace agreement.
According to the report, based on comments from a Palestinian official, this proposal was similar to one then-US president Bill Clinton offered at Camp David in 2000. The report said Abbas wanted to increase the number of Palestinians allowed into Israel to 200,000, and that this demand was under discussion.
On Sunday, in an indication that the refugee issue was on the agenda during Kerry’s talks here, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman told Israel’s ambassadors abroad that he would not agree to allow into Israel “even one” Palestinian refugee.
In 2008, then-prime minister Ehud Olmert is believed to have agreed to a symbolic acceptance by Israel of some 5,000 Palestinian refugees.
Government officials said that Netanyahu would not agree to even “a symbolic acceptance of the so-call right of return.”
“In the framework of two states for two peoples, those Palestinians who want to return to the Palestinian state will be able to do so, but the idea that Israel will take in any of the grandchildren of people who fled the fighting in 1948 is simply a non-starter,” one official said.
The refugee issue, along with borders, security, Jerusalem and the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state are believed to be the main items the US will address in the document it is expected to present in the coming weeks to serve as a basis for further negotiation between Israel and the Palestinians. Kerry is believed to be shuffling certain pieces around, checking where one side is willing to show flexibility on one issue, which might then lead to the other side showing flexibility on another.
Kerry is expected to discuss these issues in Paris on Sunday with representatives of the Arab League’s Arab Peace Initiative Follow-up Committee, to update them on the negotiations, as part of his continued efforts to win wide Arab support for the talks.
Kerry went to Jordan and Saudi Arabia on Sunday, during his latest visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, to brief them on the developments.
The State Department on Wednesday said Kerry would be traveling to Paris and Kuwait City for meetings from Saturday to next Wednesday. The bulk of those meetings will focus on Syria. The State Department made no mention of Kerry planning to visit Israel, though there is speculation he may come back late next week.