The Palestinian Authority (PA) leadership continues to give false hope to Palestinians regarding the "right of return" to their former villages and towns in Israel, as do the leaderships of most Arab countries.
This is what the Arab and Palestinian leaders have been doing since the establishment of Israel in 1948 -- and why millions of Palestinians continue to live in refugee camps throughout the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. Instead of helping the refugees and encouraging them to move on with their lives, Arab and Palestinian leaders continue to ask them to stay where they are because, they will are told, they will return to the homes of their grandfathers and great grandfathers inside Israel.
Arab and Palestinian leaders are afraid to confront the refugees with the truth sixty-seven years later, namely that the majority, if not all, will never return to towns and villages that no longer exist inside Israel.
When PA President Mahmoud Abbas, back in 2012, made the "mistake" of saying that he was not seeking to return to his birthplace of Safed in northern Israel, Palestinians across the political spectrum strongly condemned him for abandoning the "right of return," with many dubbing him a "traitor."
In a sense, Abbas can only blame himself for the outrage his comments sparked among his people. After all, he has been telling Palestinians for many years that the "right of return" is "sacred" and should never be relinquished. His media, especially the TV and radio stations, regularly refer to Acre, Haifa and Jaffa as "Palestinian cities inside the Green Line."
The strong condemnations that followed his remark about Safed forced him to backtrack, denying that he had agreed to waive the right of return.
"My words about Safed were a personal position, and they do not indicate a relinquishment of the right of return, since it is not possible for anyone to give up the right of return, because the wording of all the international and the Arab and Islamic resolutions states that a just and agreed solution must be found to the refugee problem, based on UN Resolution 194, with the word "agreed" meaning in agreement with the Israeli side," Abbas clarified.
Since then, to avoid further criticism, Abbas and other Palestinian leaders have refrained from talking about the sensitive issue of the "right of return." The only time they make any mention of the issue is when they call on Palestinians to mark "Nakba Day" (Day of Catastrophe) on the anniversary of the establishment of Israel.
Nakba Day is marked every year in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with rallies and marches, during which speakers and participants emphasize that they will never abandon the dream of returning to villages and towns inside Israel. On this day, many Palestinians also hold a key, which is the symbol of the "right of return." Some, such as Hamas, go as far as repeating their call for the destruction of Israel.
A giant symbolic key, representing the "right of return," is displayed in a refugee camp located in Bethlehem. (Image source: PNN video screenshot)
The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank is responsible for organizing and funding "Nakba Day" events, which often turn into anti-Israel protests and clashes with Israel Defense Forces and police.
On May 7, the PA decided that this year the Palestinians would again mark "Nakba Day" with numerous rallies. The government set May 15, as the day for the events, calling it a "Comprehensive National Day." It urged all Palestinians to participate in the rallies, during which a siren of "mourning" would be sounded for 67 seconds – the number of years since Israel's establishment. Churches have also been advised to ring their bells in "mourning" over the creation of Israel.
The PA also instructed its Ministry of Education to devote the first class in all schools to acquaint pupils with the "right of return" for refugees and the Palestinian "Nakba." In addition, it instructed all mosque preachers to devote their sermons to talking about the "Nakba" during Friday prayers. The Palestinian government is also planning a major rally in Ramallah to mark the event.
Hamas, for its part, has already launched a series of events in the Gaza Strip in "mourning" over the establishment of Israel. One of the events includes inviting Palestinians to come to its border with Israel, and watch "occupied Palestine" through special binoculars.
At the event, Hamas leader Ahmed Bahr announced that his movement was preparing 100,000 fighters "to liberate Palestine." He added: "The resistance groups will continue to carry weapons and we will not give up our land and holy sites. The Israeli occupation must go. No one is entitled to relinquish the right of return or make any concessions on it. Anyone who violates this would be committing the crime of high treason."
Hamas is at least being honest about its intentions to destroy Israel and replace it with an Islamist state. But the Palestinian Authority leadership in the West Bank continues to deceive not only its people, but also the international community, with regards to the refugee problem.
By sponsoring, funding and encouraging Palestinians to take to the streets to "mourn" the establishment of Israel and remain committed to the "right of return," Abbas and his officials in Ramallah are not being honest with their people. They are undoubtedly afraid of telling their people that Israel would never allow millions of Palestinians into its borders. They are even more afraid of admitting to the refugees that Arab and Palestinian leaders have been lying to them since 1948 by asking them to stay in their camps because one day they will return to non-existent villages and homes.
If and when the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks ever resume, PA leaders will not be able to make any concessions on the refugee issue. They will not because they know that their people would not accept any kind of concessions on this matter. Once again, the PA leaders will have only themselves to blame for having radicalized their people over the years to a point where Palestinians consider any concessions to Israel as a "crime of high treason." This stance not only applies to the refugee issue, but also to other matters, such as the two-state-solution, the status of Jerusalem and the future borders of a Palestinian state. Neither Abbas nor any future Palestinian leader will be able to reach a compromise with Israel when the Palestinian Authority itself continues to promote such anti-Israel sentiments.