How can Sharon's government insist that Palestinian refugees, who were evicted from Palestine in order to create Israel in 1948, relinquish their holy Right of Return.

In Yugoslavia and in Afica and Asia, no one disputed the right of refugees to return to their homeland. Why should it be different in Palestine?

How can the world take for granted that any Jewish person of any nationality, anywhere in the world can immigrate to Israel, while Palestinians cannot return to their own homes, lands, farms?

Inspite of that and for the sake of attaining peace, many Palestinians have accepted the return of a nominal number of 200,000 - 250,000 out of over 4.5 million refugees to their homeland. But, Israel refuses even this token number.

Israeli: Palestinians Must Drop Demand

The Associated Press
Monday, April 28, 2003; 2:25 PM

JERUSALEM - Israel will not take any permanent, concrete actions toward achieving peace in the Middle East unless the Palestinians "unequivocally" withdraw their demand that millions of Palestinian refugees be allowed to return to their original homes, a top Israeli official said Monday.

The "right of return" issue has been a frequent peace deal breaker. Allowing refugees from the 1948-49 war that followed creation of the Jewish state to return to their homes in Israel has been a key Palestinian demand for decades.

About 700,000 Palestinians fled or were driven from their homes during the fighting. With their descendants, they number about 4 million today. Israelis say such an influx would destroy the Jewish character of their state.

Vice Premier Ehud Olmert said Monday that the United States is aware that the issue "is one of the things that must be discussed" concerning an internationally backed "road map" to peace, which includes eventual Palestinian statehood.

The road map calls for the fate of Palestinian refugees to be resolved in a final peace deal. But Olmert said "without an explicit commitment by the Palestinians to depart wholly, unequivocally and completely from the 'right of return,' Israel is not going to do anything dramatic" in peace moves. He defined that as anything irreversible, but would not be more specific.

Olmert would not say whether Israel insists the Palestinians drop their demand as a condition for even entering the "road map" process - which could scuttle it immediately.

He also reiterated the government's position that Israel would not participate in the peace process if the Palestinians don't stop attacks against Israel.

"I say in the most unequivocal way that if there will be terror, there will not be progress," he said.

Palestinians blame Israeli military operations and restrictions for the continuing violence, though incoming Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has said that the violent aspects of the Palestinian uprising were a mistake. In 31 months of violence, 2,281 people have been killed on the Palestinian side and 760 on the Israeli side.

Israel's hawkish government has ruled out negotiations with the Palestinians as long as violence continues. Dovish critics favor immediate peace talks, charging that the no-attacks condition gives violent extremists a veto over negotiations.

Olmert repeated Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's assertion that Israel accepts "the general framework of the road map."

"We do have some comments and some disagreement about some items. But there will be no refusal of the general road map as such," Olmert told a meeting of the local Foreign Press Association. A top Sharon aide visited Washington recently and presented a list of 15 changes Israel wants, primarily concerning security.

Abbas' new Cabinet will go before the Palestinian legislature for a vote on Tuesday, opening the way for the formal presentation of the road map by the so-called Quartet of mediators - the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia.

U.S. President George W. Bush has said he will unveil the peace plan once Abbas has been installed. Bush and Israel refuse to deal with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, whom he considers tainted by terrorism, and has been holding out for an alternate Palestinian leadership.

© 2003 The Associated Press