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Abbas signals flexibility on Palestinian refugees

  • Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, top left, and Israeli Labor party lawmaker Hilik Bar, top second left, arrive for a meeting with a delegation of mostly Israeli university students and activists in dovish political parties, at his compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014. Abbas said that he does not want to "drown Israel with millions of (Palestinian) refugees to change its nature." Abbas' comment Sunday was his most conciliatory yet on the fate of Palestinian refugees who were uprooted from homes in what is now Israel, including in the 1948 war over Israel's creation. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

    Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, top left, and Israeli Labor party lawmaker Hilik Bar, top second left, arrive for a meeting with a delegation of mostly Israeli university students and activists in dovish political parties, at his compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014. Abbas said that he does not want to "drown Israel with millions of (Palestinian) refugees to change its nature." Abbas' comment Sunday was his most conciliatory yet on the fate of Palestinian refugees who were uprooted from homes in what is now Israel, including in the 1948 war over Israel's creation. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

  • Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, left and Israeli Labor party lawmaker Hilik Bar attend a meeting with a delegation of mostly Israeli university students and activists at the presidential headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014. Abbas said that he does not want to "drown Israel with millions of (Palestinian) refugees to change its nature." Abbas' comment Sunday was his most conciliatory yet on the fate of Palestinian refugees who were uprooted from homes in what is now Israel, including in the 1948 war over Israel's creation. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

    Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, left and Israeli Labor party lawmaker Hilik Bar attend a meeting with a delegation of mostly Israeli university students and activists at the presidential headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014. Abbas said that he does not want to "drown Israel with millions of (Palestinian) refugees to change its nature." Abbas' comment Sunday was his most conciliatory yet on the fate of Palestinian refugees who were uprooted from homes in what is now Israel, including in the 1948 war over Israel's creation. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

  • Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, center, speaks during a meeting with a delegation of mostly Israeli university students and activists in dovish political parties, at his compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014. Abbas said that he does not want to "drown Israel with millions of (Palestinian) refugees to change its nature." Abbas' comment Sunday was his most conciliatory yet on the fate of Palestinian refugees who were uprooted from homes in what is now Israel, including in the 1948 war over Israel's creation. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

    Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, center, speaks during a meeting with a delegation of mostly Israeli university students and activists in dovish political parties, at his compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014. Abbas said that he does not want to "drown Israel with millions of (Palestinian) refugees to change its nature." Abbas' comment Sunday was his most conciliatory yet on the fate of Palestinian refugees who were uprooted from homes in what is now Israel, including in the 1948 war over Israel's creation. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

  • Palestinians protesters holding national flags and banners participate in a demonstration against the visit of Israeli students and activists to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014. The Palestinian president told hundreds of young Israeli activists on Sunday that he does not want to “drown” Israel with Palestinian refugees, in his most conciliatory comments to date on one of the thorniest issues in Mideast peace talks. Arabic on banner reads, "No to normalization." (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

    Palestinians protesters holding national flags and banners participate in a demonstration against the visit of Israeli students and activists to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014. The Palestinian president told hundreds of young Israeli activists on Sunday that he does not want to “drown” Israel with Palestinian refugees, in his most conciliatory comments to date on one of the thorniest issues in Mideast peace talks. Arabic on banner reads, "No to normalization." (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

  • Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, top left, and Israeli Labor party lawmaker Hilik Bar, top second left, arrive for a meeting with a delegation of mostly Israeli university students and activists in dovish political parties, at his compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014. Abbas said that he does not want to "drown Israel with millions of (Palestinian) refugees to change its nature." Abbas' comment Sunday was his most conciliatory yet on the fate of Palestinian refugees who were uprooted from homes in what is now Israel, including in the 1948 war over Israel's creation. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)
  • Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, left and Israeli Labor party lawmaker Hilik Bar attend a meeting with a delegation of mostly Israeli university students and activists at the presidential headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014. Abbas said that he does not want to "drown Israel with millions of (Palestinian) refugees to change its nature." Abbas' comment Sunday was his most conciliatory yet on the fate of Palestinian refugees who were uprooted from homes in what is now Israel, including in the 1948 war over Israel's creation. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)
  • Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, center, speaks during a meeting with a delegation of mostly Israeli university students and activists in dovish political parties, at his compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014. Abbas said that he does not want to "drown Israel with millions of (Palestinian) refugees to change its nature." Abbas' comment Sunday was his most conciliatory yet on the fate of Palestinian refugees who were uprooted from homes in what is now Israel, including in the 1948 war over Israel's creation. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)
  • Palestinians protesters holding national flags and banners participate in a demonstration against the visit of Israeli students and activists to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014. The Palestinian president told hundreds of young Israeli activists on Sunday that he does not want to “drown” Israel with Palestinian refugees, in his most conciliatory comments to date on one of the thorniest issues in Mideast peace talks. Arabic on banner reads, "No to normalization." (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

The Palestinian president told hundreds of young Israeli activists yesterday that he does not want to “drown” Israel with Palestinian refugees, in his most conciliatory comments to date on one of the thorniest issues in Mideast peace talks.

The statements by President Mahmoud Abbas suggested new flexibility on the “right of return,” the demand by hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced in the war surrounding Israel’s creation in 1948, and their descendants, to return to lost properties in the Jewish state.

Today, the refugees and their descendants are believed to number about 5 million people. In Israel, there is broad consensus against accepting a large-scale resettling of these refugees in any future peace deal with the Palestinians, saying it would dilute the Jewish character of Israel, a country of just 8 million people. Israeli officials believe the refugees should be resettled in a future Palestinian state or offered some sort of compensation.

But speaking to some 300 young Israelis who visited his West Bank headquarters, Abbas said he is seeking a “creative solution” for the refugees, suggesting he is not demanding a blanket right of return.

“Refugees should be satisfied, and all parties should be satisfied,” Abbas said. “You will be satisfied, and we will be satisfied.”

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