Ramallah - Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said on Sunday he was not looking "to flood Israel" with returning Palestinian refugees, at a rare meeting with 250 Israeli students at his West Bank headquarters.
"Propaganda says Abu Mazen wants to flood Israel with five million refugees to destroy the state of Israel," he told the group at his Muqataa presidential compound in Ramallah, referring to himself by his nickname.
"All we said is that we should put the refugee file on the [negotiating] table because it is an issue we must solve to end the conflict," he told them, adding that any solution must be "just and agreed upon".
"But we will not seek to flood Israel with millions of refugees to change its social character. This is a lie," said Abbas, who is himself a refugee.
Resolving the question of the right of return for Palestinian families who fled or were forced out of their homes during the war which accompanied Israel's independence in 1948 is one of the most bitterly-disputed aspects of the conflict.
The Palestinians have always demanded that the Jewish state recognise their right of return to homes in modern-day Israel in keeping with UN General Assembly Resolution 194.
But Israel rejects the idea, saying it would erode the country's Jewish majority. It is, however, prepared for the refugees to live in a future Palestinian state.
There are approximately five million registered Palestinian refugees, mostly descendants of the original 760 000 people who fled or were forced out in 1948.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted that the Palestinians recognise Israel as "the state of the Jewish people" in a move to ensure the refugee issue is resolved within the borders of a future Palestinian state.
But the Palestinians have dismissed the demand, saying they recognised Israel in 1993 under the Oslo accords and insisting it is not for other nations to define a state's national or religious character.
The fate of the refugees is one of the core disputes under discussion in US-brokered peace talks relaunched last year that have shown little sign of progress.