Abbas: I won’t give up demand for right of return of refugees

By The Associated Press and BPI-info PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas told the Palestinian parliament Tuesday that he would follow in Yasser Arafat’s footsteps and demand that Israel recognize the right of return of Palestinian refugees to Israel. Abbas spoke a day after the ruling Fatah movement chose him as its candidate in January 9 elections for Palestinian Authority chairman. But the Fatah „young guard” said Tuesday that they would challenge the decision to name Abbas as Fatah candidate in the elections. The speech marked the first time since Arafat’s death November 11 that Abbas outlined his views on the conflict with Israel. Abbas’ ideas about a peace deal with Israel have always been close to those of Arafat: a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as a capital, and Israeli recognition of the right of return of some four million refugees and their descendants. Israel has said it is willing to repatriate a few thousand refugees as a good-will gesture, but that the majority of refugees must be taken in by a future Palestinian state. At a memorial ceremony for Arafat at the Palestinian parliament, Abbas said he would walk in the footsteps of the late Palestinian leader. „We promise you [Arafat] that our heart will not rest until we achieve the right of return for our people and end the tragic refugee issue,” he said. Young guard wants Barghouti Some of the Fatah rebels are pushing for Marwan Barghouti, the Tanzim leader currently serving five life sentences in Israel, as the movement’s candidate to replace the late Yasser Arafat, arguing that the popular Barghouti has a better chance of winning. Barghouti’s wife, Fadwa, said her husband would decide early next week whether to run as an independent. Abbas, 69, represents the older group of politicians who returned with Yasser Arafat from exile in 1994, while Barghouti, 45, leads the Fatah activists who grew up in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The outcome of the power struggle between the younger and older generation could well determine the next Palestinian leader.

Arafat, who died November 11, held three top jobs – PLO chief, leader of Fatah and PA chairman. Immediately after his death, Abbas was chosen as PLO chief. If he is also elected as Palestinian Authority leader, he would be transformed from interim leader to Arafat’s successor. The decision to nominate Abbas was made Monday evening by 13 members of Fatah’s Central Committee, which is dominated by the old guard. Palestinian Cabinet minister Kadoura Fares, a Barghouti loyalist, said the Fatah candidate should be chosen in a much larger forum. But other members of the young guard said they are ready to recognize Abbas. Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Sha?ath urged Barghouti not to run. „I think Marwan Barghouti is a disciplined man. He is committed to the decisions of Fatah,” Sha?ath said. „Marwan will have an important role in the future.” Abbas served as Arafat’s first prime minister in 2003. However, he resigned after just four months in power, frustrated with Israeli policy and Arafat’s refusal to grant him real power.