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Thursday, August 14, 2008
[Called something else?] PMO: Israel won't take in any Palestinian refugees

Dr. Aaron Lerner - IMRA:

Two possibilities: Roseer and Benn's sources did not give them correct
information or PM Olmert is engaged in a "white lie".

"The prime minister never offered to absorb 20,000 refugees in Israel. The
prime minister again reiterates that under any future agreement, there will
not be any return of Palestinian refugees to Israel in any number," Olmert's
office said.

Of course no "return of refugees" - but how about maybe just "family
reunification" of people who - surprise surprise - right now happen to be
refugees.]

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PMO: Israel won't take in any Palestinian refugees
By Shmuel Rosner and Aluf Benn Haaretz Last update - 12:19 14/08/2008
www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1011401.html

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that
Israel will not allow the return of any Palestinian refugees as part of a
future statehood deal, Olmert's office said on Thursday.

The rare official statement was issued in response to a Haaretz report that
Olmert had proposed absorbing 20,000 refugees per year for 10
years as part of an agreement to establish a Palestinian state in most of
the West Bank and all of the Gaza Strip.

"The prime minister never offered to absorb 20,000 refugees in Israel. The
prime minister again reiterates that under any future agreement, there will
not be any return of Palestinian refugees to Israel in any number," Olmert's
office said.

There was no immediate comment from Palestinian officials.

According to the report, Olmert had proposed to Abbas that the "shelf
agreement" the two sides are working on include an agreement for Israel to
take in Palestinian refugees as part of "family unification."

Sources in Israel and the United States said that according to Olmert's
offer, the absorption would be based on a humanitarian basis and according
to a formula to be determined in advance.

The Prime Minister's Office responded to the report by saying: "The prime
minister's stance is that the establishment of a Palestinian state is meant
to provide an answer to the absorption of Palestinian refugees. Those
refugees who are not returned to a Palestinian state will be dealt with by
an international force."

"The American stance on this matter is identical to the Israeli stance, as
expressed in [U.S.] President [George] Bush's April 2004 letter, in which he
says Palestinian refugees will not be returned to the State of Israel but to
a future Palestinian state," the PMO added.

According to Haaretz's report, the absorption of these refugees would depend
on all the other issues being resolved first, and on the Palestinians
agreeing that there would not be a "right of return" to Israel and that most
refugees would be absorbed in the future Palestinian state.

Livni: Absorbing refugees would set dangerous precedent

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who is conducting parallel talks with the
Palestinians' chief negotiator, Ahmed Qureia, is opposed to Israel's taking
in any Palestinian refugees, and also refuses accepting them on the basis of
family reunification.

Livni told U.S. President George W. Bush during his visit to Israel last
January that allowing any refugees into Israel would set a dangerous
precedent.

"It's like in a thriller, where you see the heroine open the door a crack
and you know that the man with the knife is going to come in and stab her,"
Livni told Bush.

In her opinion, Israel must not compromise on letting in refugees, because
that would be interpreted as an opening to exercising the "right of return."

Livni made it clear to the American administration that if the cabinet is
presented with a memorandum of understanding that includes allowing refugees
into Israel, she might vote against it. In the current political situation,
Livni's opposition could scuttle the agreement if brought to a government
vote.

Washington's position is that the refugee issue is a matter for the Israelis
and Palestinians to discuss, but Bush might have a problem if Olmert brings
for his government's approval an agreement unacceptable to most ministers.

Bush would have to decide whether to bless the agreement before it has been
approved - and thereby enable Olmert to pressure ministers to support the
agreement - or refrain from a sympathetic public response. This would signal
to the Israeli cabinet that Olmert does not have the automatic backing of
the American administration.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is returning to the region next
week, and wants an Israeli-Palestinian agreement - even a partial or
watered-down one - before Bush's tenure ends. Olmert believes an agreement
is still obtainable, and according to political sources close to the talks,
the sides have shown more flexibility in recent weeks.

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