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The survey found that only 10% of respondents in the Palestinian territories, Jordan and Lebanon would wish to rebuild their homes under Israeli rule - a finding that challenges existing Israeli and Palestinian perceptions.

Eminent Palestinian political scientist Dr Shikaki was pushed, shoved and pelted with eggs as he released details of his latest poll by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research which suggested that few of the 4 million descendants of the 700,000 Palestinians who left their homes in advance of the 1948 Arab invasion would seek to return to live in Israel if allowed.

Critics in the PLO's refugee department said the study did not accurately reflect refugees? attitudes, while others criticized the way the questions were posed, saying they were skewed to get the desired answers.

The controversial "right of return" continues to pose a real challenge to the future of the so-called ?roadmap? peace process. Israel contests that the diplomatic plan doesn?t equate their recognition of a future Palestinian State, called for at the outset of the roadmap process, with a reciprocal Palestinian recognition of the Jewish character of the State of Israel through waiving the right of return.

Even dovish Israelis reject risking a mass influx of Palestinians to a country already populated by 5.5 million Jews and 1.2 million Arabs as tantamount to the demographic destruction of the Jewish State.

The passions the issue arouses were made clear when Dr Shikaki called a news conference to present his findings and found offices stormed by 200 Palestinian ?activists?, smashing furniture, throwing eggs and assaulting Shikaki and other members of his staff.

"We are here to announce that our right of return is a sacred right," said a leaflet distributed by the protesters. "We will resist any attempt to sabotage our right of return."

Although 95% of respondents insisted that Israel recognize the right of return as a moral principle, just over half of respondents said they would want prefer to return to an independent Palestinian state, while 17% said they would stay in their adopted homes, and 2% would like to move to a foreign country. The rest rejected all the options presented or did not have an opinion.

"The refugees who didn't choose to return to 1948 lands... know that life in Israel means Israeli citizenship, Israeli laws, and an Israeli social environment," Shikaki said, criticizing his assailants for not even seeing the results. "Someone sent them and provoked them," one eyewitness said.

Palestinian officials condemned the attack on Shikaki, but thought him unwise to raise such a ?sensitive issue? at such a time.

While Fatah and other Palestinian factions reject any compromise over the issue, refugees in Lebanon and Jordan have for a long time said that their dream is to return to a Palestinian state, not Israel proper. PA sources admitted the polls probably reflect the real thinking of many, but recognize that few dare break the taboo and say it publicly.