Peace negotiations with the Palestinians must ensure that Israeli Arabs not lose their citizenship, Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar said Tuesday, adding 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.”
Sa’ar went on to assure the city’s residents that Israeli Arabs were recognized by Israeli authorities as an integral part of Israeli society.
“Israeli Arabs are equal citizens and in any future peace agreement we cannot damage their citizenship,” he said. “We may talk about equal rights and equal [civil] duties, but the confiscation of citizenship should not be on the agenda.”
Sa’ar’s decisive words came in response to comments by Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, who stressed that his party, Yisrael Beytenu, would not agree to a peace agreement without land swaps that would place large Israeli Arab population centers within the Palestinian state.
“It’s appropriate to talk about an issue that’s not exactly politically correct,” Liberman said Sunday.
“I’m talking of course of the exchange of territory and populations. And if someone thinks that I’m talking about an exchange of territory and ‘the triangle’ and Wadi Ara [both areas mostly populated by Israeli Arabs] – indeed, that’s what I am referring to.”
The foreign minister emphasized that he was not talking about a population transfer. “Everyone will stay in their own houses, in the same places. Only the borders will move toward what is today [the highway along Israel’s eastern spine] Route 6, more or less.”
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.
Last week, 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.
Stuart Winer and Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.