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US election 2020: Andrew Yang retracts support for Palestinian right of return

Presidential hopeful clarifies his position, saying initial support for Palestinian return came from a mistake made by staff member
Yang initially replied 'yes' and was the only candidate to unequivocally agree to the right of return without any conditions (AFP)
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US Democratic presidential hopeful Andrew Yang has taken back remarks that Palestinian refugees and their descendants should be allowed the right to return to their ancestral homes.

In a survey addressing all current Democratic candidates, the New York Times posed the question: "Should all Palestinian refugees and their descendants have the right to return to Israel?"

Yang, whose main election issue has been his plan to create a basic universal income for all Americans, replied with a "yes" and was the only candidate to unequivocally agree without any conditions.

However, on Monday he retracted the reply, this time with an emphatic no.

"It was answered by a staffer who I think misunderstood the question," Yang tweeted.

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"I believe that Palestinians should have a say in their future, but I do not believe that all refugees and descendants have the right to return to Israel."

The right of return refers to the mass exodus of more than 750,000 Palestinians in 1948 - when Israel was created.

In December 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 194, Article III of which recommends the return of displaced Palestinians to their homes "at the earliest practicable date" or compensation for those who did not wish return.

As of 2020, millions of Palestinians are scattered across the Middle East and elsewhere, barred by Israel from returning to their ancestral homeland.

Other presidential candidates gave more nuanced answers, saying that the issue is something that needs to be decided on by both Israel and Palestine.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders was the only candidate to say that the right of return is an internationally recognised right, but added that the terms need to be negotiated by both Israelis and Palestinians.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren said that the Palestinians should be given monetary compensation for their losses.

'Deal of the century'

Last month, the Trump administration released its controversial Israel-Palestine plan, known colloquially as the "deal of the century".

The proposal made numerous concessions to Israel, allowing Israel to annex illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, including the strategic Jordan Valley, referred to Jerusalem as Israel's capital and denied Palestinians the right to return to their ancestral homes in Israel.

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Should a future state of Palestine materialise it would be demilitarised, and Israel would retain control over its borders, the document added.

Candidates were also asked other questions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including whether the decision to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem should be reversed. 

The only candidate to answer this question with an unequivocal yes was businessman Tom Steyer.

The Democratic primaries have headed into full swing, with the New Hampshire primary election taking place Tuesday.

Sanders is the current favourite to win in New Hampshire, according to recent polls.