Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas says he has no right to return to live in his boyhood hometown, which is now in Israel.
Speaking in an interview with Israeli television, Abbas said it is his right to “see” the town of Safed “but not to live there.”
Abbas spent his boyhood in Safed, in Galilee in what is now northern Israel, but he and his family fled during the 1948 war that led to Israel’s founding and have not returned.
Abbas said he believed a future Palestinian state should be established only within the borders set before Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the 1967 Six-Day War.
“I want to see Safed," Abbas said in the interview. "It is my right to see it, but not to live there.”
He added: “Palestine now for me is 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital. This is now and forever."
The demand for millions of Palestinians to have the right to return to lands that are now in Israel has been a persistent stumbling block in Middle East peace talks.
Israel rejects any Palestinian right of return, saying a mass influx of Arabs would shift the demographic balance and threaten Israel’s existence as a Jewish state.
Abbas’s comments were quickly denounced by the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip. Hamas does not recognize Israel’s right to exist and has regularly opened fire on Israel, drawing retaliation from the Israeli military.
“Abbas’s statements where he considered that Palestine is just the occupied territories in 1967 are unpatriotic statements and means cancelation for the 'right of return,'" Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said. "These statements reflect Abbas’s culture and will never reflect the stand of the Palestinian nation."
In the interview, Abbas also said that as long as he remained in power he would not permit a third armed "intifada," or uprising, by Palestinians against Israel.
"As far as I am here in this office there will be no armed, third armed intifada," he said. "Never.”
The Israeli government had no immediate comment on Abbas’s remarks.
The Palestinian leader’s comments come with Abbas preparing to visit the United Nations in New York later this month for a vote in the UN General Assembly on whether Palestine should be granted “nonmember state” status at the UN.
The Palestinian initiative is opposed by Israel and its ally the United States.
Abbas's remarks also come amid campaigning in Israel for January 22 legislative elections that right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies appear likely to win.
Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been stalled for the past two years, with the Palestinians demanding that Israel halt all settlement activity in the West Bank before further negotiations.
Israel has rejected the demand as an unacceptable precondition.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, Timesofisrael.com, and Haaretz.com