The Palestinian refusal to accept Israeli settlers in their future state does not stem from anti-Jewish sentiment, Palestinian officials said on Monday. Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, told The Times of Israel that Jews and members of all religions would have the right to apply for Palestinian citizenship. But “Palestine” could not accept “ex-territorial Jewish enclaves” where residents maintained their Israeli citizenship status, she said.
Comments from the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office made to The Times of Israel on Sunday, indicating that following a peace treaty settlers would be allowed to choose whether to relocate to Israel or remain under Palestinian sovereignty, have sparked a flurry of indignation from both the Palestinians and the Israeli right.
The source in the Israeli Prime Minister’s office said that “just as Israel has an Arab minority, the prime minister doesn’t see why Palestine can’t have a Jewish minority. The Jews living on their side should have a choice whether they want to stay or not.”
A Palestinian official, speaking to The Times of Israel on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to comment on the matter, said Monday that Netanyahu had raised the issue of settlers remaining under Palestinian sovereignty with US Secretary of State John Kerry during Kerry’s last visit to the region. The Prime Minister’s Office refused to comment on this.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has previously stated that no settlers would be allowed to remain in the Palestinian state, and his chief negotiator Saeb Erekat on Sunday repeated that not a single settler would be allowed to stay because, he said, Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal under international law. That response was lambasted by sources in the PMO late Sunday as a “radical and reckless reaction.”
In an interview with official PA daily Al-Ayyam Monday, Erekat said the Palestinian position has nothing to do with singling out Jews.
“If Netanyahu argues that these positions are against Jews, we say to him that two Jews were elected in 2009 as members of Fatah’s Revolutionary Council: Ilan Halevi and Uri Davis,” Erekat said. “Our position is against settlements, considering them illegal and contrary to all international laws.”
Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO’s Executive Committee, said that a clear distinction must be made between settlers and Jewish individuals who choose to live in a Palestinian state.
“Any person, be he Jewish, Christian or Buddhist, will have the right to apply for Palestinian citizenship,” Ashrawi told The Times of Israel. “Our basic law prohibits discrimination based on race or ethnicity.”
She added, however, that Palestinians would not accept “ex-territorial Jewish enclaves,” where residents will maintain their Israeli citizenship status. Abbas, she said, had no problem with Jews within the Palestinian state, including in the international security force deployed in the Jordan Valley.
Friction between Israeli settlements and Palestinians makes the notion of Jewish communities remaining safe under Palestinian sovereignty seem far-fetched to many Israelis and Palestinians.
But minutes of a meeting between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators leaked by Al-Jazeera in June 2008 indicate that the Palestinians themselves proposed including some settlements within the territory of “Palestine.”
“As for settlements, we proposed the following: Removal of some settlements, annexation of others, and keeping others under Palestinian sovereignty,” Palestinian negotiator Ahmad Qurei (Abu-‘Alaa) told then-foreign minister Tzipi Livni, in the presence of then-US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and their negotiating teams.
Qurei suggested applying Palestinian sovereignty to Ma’aleh Adumim, the largest Israeli settlement in the West Bank, and using it as “a model of cooperation and coexistence.” The idea was rejected by Livni as “unrealistic.”
Some Jewish settlers, too, would be willing to entertain the idea of remaining under Palestinian sovereignty. Nachum Pachenik, a resident of the Etzion bloc south of Jerusalem, told The Times of Israel last May that true peace could only be achieved if all parties involved remain in their homes.
“Peace takes care of everyone, allowing everyone to leave their home [in the morning] with an easy heart, feeling secure,” he said. “There should be two states along the ’67 lines, and settlement expansion should stop. The settlements that already exist, will remain.”
Pachenik cited a poll indicating that as many as 4.5% percent of the estimated 350,000 settlers (not including Jerusalem) would be willing to remain in a Palestinian state.
Ashrawi said on Monday, however, that the timing of Netanyahu’s comments in Davos made it clear that this was just another Israeli attempt to “scuttle the talks.” The prime minister, she said, wanted to add preconditions that the Palestinians cannot possibly accept, like the demand to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.