Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Israel firm on refugees after Bush dismays Arabs, Reuters, 16 May 16, 2008.

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Six months into negotiations sponsored by Bush in the hope of a deal before he leaves the White House, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's spokesman used some of the toughest Israeli language yet to insist that President Mahmoud Abbas abandon 60-year-old refugee claims if he wants to establish a Palestinian state.

"This demand, which does not exist under international law, for right of return, is the ultimate deal breaker. You cannot have peace and this demand at the same time," Mark Regev said.

Some 700,000 people, half the Arab population of Palestine in May 1948, fled or were driven from their homes when Israel was created. Letting them and their families live in Israel now would undermine its nature as a Jewish state, Israel argues.

It also disputes the legal basis of the right of the return first set out in a United Nations resolution of December 1948.


Bush, who steps down in January, made little reference to the peace negotiations or to the Palestinians at all while in Israel. Many Palestinians were dismayed by a speech to Israel's parliament in which he spoke of a shared divine providence uniting American Christians like himself with Israel's Jews.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Reuters: "He should have told the Israelis that, 1 mile from where he was speaking, there is a nation that has lived in disaster for 60 years. He should have told the Israelis no one can be free at the expense of others. He missed this opportunity and we are disappointed."

Bush called Israel a homeland for God's "chosen people" and pledged Washington would remain its "best friend in the world".

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