RAMALLAH, West Bank (AFP)- Palestinians marked the worst day in their history, determined to lift damaging economic sanctions and warning that Israeli unilateralism could kill off a two-state solution.
The commemoration of the 58th anniversary of the “catastrophe” of Israel’s creation came with Palestinian Authority president Mahmud Abbas in Russia on a quest to shore up financial and political support for his beleaguered people.
“Our first priority is to lift the economic and political siege imposed on our people, then to end the occupation of our land once and for all, and to establish our independent Palestinian state,” Abbas said in televised address.
The European Union and United States have cut direct aid to the Palestinian Authority since radical Islamist movement Hamas formed a government in March, over its refusal to renounce violence or recognise Israel’s right to exist.
Abbas, who was meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin, accused Israel of “using every excuse possible” to convince the world there is no Palestinian negotiating partner in order to redraw its borders with the occupied West Bank and siphon off the largest Jewish settlements built on Arab land.
The project, which Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has vowed to implement with or without agreement from the Palestinians, “will practically destroy the concept of a two-state solution” to the Middle East conflict, he said.
“The Israeli government must release Palestinian funds and refrain from implementing its unilateral plans, as this would destroy the prospects of a negotiated settlement for good, inflame the region and strengthen extremism.”
Abbas’s dire predictions came as a new survey predicted 65 percent of Israelis and Palestinians believe no Middle East peace agreement is possible during Olmert’s four-year term of office.
Palestinian MPs held a special session of parliament to mark Naqba day which began with a one-minute silence, as demonstrations took place across the Gaza Strip and West Bank, as well as in refugee camps around the region.
Aziz al-Dweik, the Hamas speaker of parliament, said killings of six Palestinians by Israeli troops in the northern West Bank on Sunday conformed to a pattern that stretched back to 1948.
“The Zionist occupation must be held fully responsible for all the things that have befallen the Palestinian people,” he told deputies.
“What happened yesterday in Jenin illustrates how the Israelis are continuing the aggressions that we have seen from the Naqba until today.”
Israel’s Defence Minister Amir Peretz praised the operation in which two top Islamic Jihad militants died as “an important achievement in the war against terrorism” as Jihad vowed to carry out further suicide attacks in revenge.
In Gaza City, several thousand protestors gathered outside the local branch of parliament with banners demanding the right of return, maps of historic Palestine, wooden keys to former homes and flags.
“We will never abandon the right of return,” they shouted, slamming Olmert’s border project in the West Bank and standing around a refugee tent erected in protest outside parliament.
The fate of the original refugees and their descendants, who are scattered throughout the occupied territories and neighbouring Arab countries, has been one of the thorniest issues of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Israel steadfastly opposes the so-called right of return, aware that the demographics of the Jewish state could be overturned if all Palestinian refugees and their descendents move to modern-day Israel.
Those who stayed in their villages when Israel was created are now described as Israeli Arabs, but the majority became refugees in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and neighbouring Arab countries.