The leader of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip has criticised the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas for comments he made to Israeli media, saying that they contradict long-held Palestinian territorial demands.
Abbas made the rare if symbolic concession to Israel on Thursday, saying he had no permanent claim on the town from which he was driven as a child during the 1948 war of the Jewish state’s founding.
Ismail Haniyeh said on Friday that Abbas’ remarks on the right of return for Palestinian refugees, aired on Israel’s Channel 2, were “extremely dangerous”.
In his comments, Abbas said: “Palestine now for me is 67 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital … This is now and forever, this is Palestine for me.
I am a refugee but living in Ramallah. I believe that West Bank and Gaza is Palestine. The rest is Israel.”
The president said that while he would like to see his birthplace – Safed, now a town in northern Israel – he does not want to live there.
“I want to see Safed. It is my right to see it but not to live there,” he said.
The remarks came ahead of a UN bid that would see Palestinians gain partial statehood recognition in the occupied Palestinian territories.
The comments appear to have been meant to mollify Israel that Palestinians did not lay claim to lands taken for Israel in 1948, nor seek to run them over demographically.
Palestinians hope the vote will force Israel to withdraw from its current positions to lines it held before the 1967 war or face international legal action.
Israel says negotiations alone will fix borders between it and any future Palestine.
But Abbas’ comments backfired among some of his people as he touched on one of the most sensitive issues at the heart of Israel-Palestinian conflict: the fate of refugees who fled, or were forced to flee their homes, in the fighting surrounding Israel’s creation in 1948.
They and their descendants now number more than five million.
Linah Alsaafin, a Ramallah-based activist, told Al Jazeera that Abbas’ statements “prove that he has lost touch with the Palestinian people”.
“Considering his presidential term is expired since 2009, he really doesn’t have the legitimacy to act in the name of the Palestinians and come out with such outlandish statements.”
“Abbas has succeeded in uniting the Palestinian people against his words, they are united in disgust and protest,” Alsaafin said.
Others defended Abbas, saying the issue was a propaganda attack against the Palestinian leader.
“Why has everyone forgotten about his statements at the UN when he said; “I’m from the city of Safed and my family has the right to return there,” a soldier in the Palestinian Authority security forces told Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity.
“Also, his words were twisted by Israeli television … Why should we believe the Israeli media more than we trust our own leaders?” the soldier added.
‘Never give up’
Gaza’s Hamas movement, alongside many other Palestinians, said Abbas’ remarks suggested millions of refugees and their descendants would not return to the places they fled in wars with Israel.
“It is not possible for any person, regardless of who he is, a person, a president, government, or authority, to give up on Palestinian land or to give up the right of return to our homes that we were forced out from,” Haniyeh said.
Palestinians who spoke to AP Television on Friday also agreed that no refugee will give up on their homeland.
“Anyone who was forced out of his land in 48 will never give up his land,” Hisham Farraj, who lives in the Al-Jalazon refugee camp, said.
The refugee issue has been a big obstacle in peace talks. Israel says their entry would be demographic suicide and expects refugees to be taken in by a future Palestinian state.