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Arafat: Palestinians won't concede to Sharon's plan

Sharon rejects 'right of return,' won't pull out all settlements

Yasser Arafat delivers a televised speech Thursday.

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Yasser Arafat
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RAMALLAH, West Bank (CNN) -- Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat on Thursday said the Palestinians will never give up their quest for an independent state and the "right of refugees to return to their lands."

Arafat's address on TV came a day after President Bush gave his backing to most aspects of what Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon calls a unilateral "disengagement plan." The plan includes a rejection of the right of return, a longtime major sticking point in negotiations between the two sides.

In supporting Sharon, Bush said Palestinian refugees should not be able to return to the lands they left in 1948 when Israel was formed, saying they must be settled in a Palestinian state instead.

Bush also gave his backing to Israel keeping some settlements on the West Bank, saying, "In light of the new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949."

But Arafat said the Palestinian people will not give up, and said there can be no security for Israel as long as the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands continues.

"The Palestinian people will never give up the goal of achieving freedom and independence and a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital," said Arafat.

Arafat said while Israel has killed Palestinian leaders over the decades, it has failed to stop the Palestinian people.

"Yes, my brothers and sisters, our fate is to defend our land, our holy shines, defend Jerusalem and the right to live in freedom and national independence and the right of refugees to return to their lands. ...

"Israeli crimes will be faced with more resistance to force Israeli occupiers and herds of settlers to leave Palestinian land," Arafat said, cautioning "Israel will not achieve security through occupation, arrogance and assassinating our leaders."

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, left, and President Bush announce the outcome of their talks in Washington on Wednesday.

Israel cannot gain security, said Arafat, until there is an independent Palestinian homeland "free from occupation, free from settlements, free from the Israeli siege."

Sharon came to Washington seeking Bush's approval for his disengagement plan, contending he had no partner on the Palestinian side with which to negotiate.

Bush said Sharon's plan would also remove all Israeli settlements and some military installations from Gaza, could "accelerate the process" of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by reinvigorating a peace process that has all but ground to a halt.

"These are historic and courageous actions," Bush said, after meeting with Sharon at the White House. "If all parties choose to embrace this moment, they can open the door to progress and put an end to one of the world's longest-running conflicts."

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