Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman on Wednesday defended his promotion of a controversial plan to transfer jurisdiction of some Israeli Arab towns to a future Palestinian state by saying their residents have never wanted to part of the Jewish state. He further noted that those who oppose the idea didn’t object when Jews were relocated from the Gush Katif settlements in the Gaza Strip in 2005.
President Shimon Peres on Wednesday rejected the idea of a population transfer as “impractical,” adding that “Israel cannot take away its citizens’ citizenship simply because they’re Arab.”
In a statement posted on his Facebook page, Liberman heaped scorn on opponents of his plan, which calls for towns in the “triangle” region southeast of Haifa, including heavily populated Arab cities, to become part of a Palestinian state in any peace agreement in exchange for the Jewish settlement blocs of the West Bank. Liberman pointed to the alleged hypocrisy of the Arab residents of the cities in question, saying that in the past they had strongly identified with the Palestinian cause, rejecting the right of Israel to exist and aligning themselves with those seeking to destroy the Jewish state.
“The Arabs of Wadi Ara have suddenly become adorers of Zion,” he wrote sarcastically. “In interviews with the residents of Umm al-Fahm on the various television stations we saw those same people who, instead of celebrating [Israel’s] Independence Day, mark Nakba Day and wave black flags instead of Israeli flags, those same people who, in their rallies wave pictures of [Hezbollah head Hassan] Nasrallah and the flags of Hamas and Hezbollah — those people are now objecting to the intention that as part of a peace agreement that will include land and population transfers, they will be citizens of a Palestinian state.
“All of a sudden, they are an integral part of the State of Israel, suddenly Herzl is their national hero, Hatikva is a hit, and MK Ahmad Tibi [who has come out against the plan] and his friends have a ‘yearning Jewish soul,'” Liberman continued in a reference to a phrase from Israel’s national anthem, Hatikva, that recalls Jewish longing for a return to Zion.
The foreign minister also criticized Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for his objections to the plan.
“Abbas, who is so concerned about freeing the Israeli Arabs sitting in prison because of terror activities against Israel, is suddenly crying out in protest against the thought that they will become his citizens,” he said.
Liberman denounced opposition to the plan, which has emanated both from the left and from within the coalition, and pointed to the movement’s support of a 2003 extra-governmental peace proposal spearheaded by former Israeli minister Yossi Beilin and former Palestinian Authority minister Yasser Abed Rabbo, which called for making East Jerusalem the capital of a Palestinian state.
“And the bleeding hearts on the left and their ilk, who talk so much about how the Arabs of the triangle are not an object that can be moved from one jurisdiction to another (because there was no intent to move them physically) — they weren’t moved when in the Geneva Initiative Yossi Belin wanted to transfer the residents of East Jerusalem to Palestinian jurisdiction and to nullify their [Israeli] identity cards, and they didn’t blink when the residents of Sinai or Gush Katif were physically transferred and did not just have their jurisdiction transferred.”
“There are many historical precedents for land and population swaps, and for the alteration of borders that enabled the creation of homogeneous states and the end of internal conflicts,” Liberman wrote. Invoking the memory of Theodor Herzl and his aspirations to create a Jewish state, he concluded, “Therefore there is no reason to think that the matter is not feasible. After all, we know that’s what they said about the Zionist dream, or in short, “If you will it, it is no dream.”
On Tuesday, Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar expressed objection to Liberman’s proposal, saying that any long-term agreement must state that Israel’s Arab population remain in Israeli territory.
“As interior minister, I would like to dwell on the concept of citizenship for a moment,” Sa’ar said during a visit to Sakhnin, an Arab city in the Lower Galilee region. “An Israeli citizen is not an object and not transferable as part of a framework political agreement.”
Redrawing Israel’s borders to exclude major Arab population centers that lie on the Israeli side of the Green Line has long been a major policy point for Liberman.
At the beginning of January unnamed sources told Maariv that the “triangle” plan, involving some 300,000 Israeli Arabs living on land that would become part of a new Palestine, had come up during talks between Israel and US officials.
In the past, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected such an approach.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.