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Why the Palestinian president shocked his people over 'right of return'

President Mahmoud Abbas appeared to give up on a longtime Palestinian demand that refugees be allowed back into homes from before the 1948 founding of the Jewish state.

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Mahmoud Abbas touched off a storm of debate in the Middle East over the weekend after the Palestinian president seemingly conceded the "right of return" for Palestinian refugees, a symbolically loaded issue at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for decades.

In an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 news, Mr. Abbas said that although he is a refugee hailing from the Israeli town of Safed, he plans to remain in the West Bank rather than lay claim to his boyhood home as part of a peace deal.

"It's my right to see it, but not to live there," he said in English in a one-on-one interview. "I am a refugee, but I am living in Ramallah, and this is Palestine. I believe the West Bank and Gaza is Palestine, and the other parts are Israel."

Both Israeli and Palestinian observers saw the remark as breaking with a demand that refugees be allowed back into homes from before the 1948 founding of the Jewish state – an issue negotiators have tried to resolve behind closed doors but never has been discussed in the open among the Palestinians because it is a taboo.

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