Hundreds of Arab Israelis protest US plan, blast bid to transfer villages

Hundreds of Arab Israelis protest US plan, blast bid to transfer villages

NGO claims proposal to redraw borders keeping some towns outside Israel seeks demographic shift through ‘racially motivated separation’; Labor head says notion ‘dangerous’

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Joint List MKs lead a protest against US President Donald Trump's peace plan in Baqa al-Gharbiya on February 1, 2020. (Courtesy)
Joint List MKs lead a protest against US President Donald Trump's peace plan in Baqa al-Gharbiya on February 1, 2020. (Courtesy)

Hundreds of Arab Israelis demonstrated in northern Israel on Saturday against the recently released US peace plan, blasting its inclusion of a clause which proposes redrawing the borders to include minority towns in the so-called Triangle in a future Palestinian state.

The protest in Baqa al-Gharbiya, the second in the Triangle area in so many days, was attended and led by lawmakers from the predominantly Arab Joint List party, who said US President Donald Trump’s proposal adopted the views of the far-right.

The idea of ​​transferring Arab Israeli towns to a future Palestinian state “was once [seen as] marginal and delusional, but it is now being adopted by the mainstream of the Israeli and American right,” Joint List MK Yousef Jabareen said at the rally.

“Together with the thousands here today, we are protesting against the dangerous initiatives of annexation, apartheid and transfer,” he added.

Joint List MKs lead a protest against US President Donald Trump’s peace plan in Baqa al-Gharbiya on February 1, 2020. (Courtesy)

Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh told those present at the protest that Israelis would respond to the Trump plan at the ballot box by voting for the Joint List in droves.

“No one will deprive us of citizenship in the homeland where we were born,” he added.

The Triangle is an area southeast of Haifa, near the Palestinian city of Jenin, which includes 14 towns and villages where more than 260,000 Arab Israelis live.

The plan grants Israel much of what it has sought in decades of international diplomacy, namely control over Jerusalem as its “undivided” capital, rather than a city to share with the Palestinians, who would have the capital of their future state in a suburb of the city — without the coveted Old City and surrounding neighborhoods. The plan also rules out the return of Palestinian refugees to Israeli territory and envisions all West Bank settlements coming under full Israeli sovereignty.

The peace plan said it “contemplates the possibility, subject to agreement of the parties that the borders of Israel will be redrawn such that the Triangle communities become part of the State of Palestine.”

“These communities, which largely self-identify as Palestinian, were originally designated to fall under Jordanian control during the negotiations of the Armistice Line of 1949, but ultimately were retained by Israel for military reasons that have since been mitigated,” the proposal said.

In Umm al-Fahm, a hilltop town of over 50,000 people, locals told AFP they were aghast at the clause.

“We don’t take this lightly. This situation is very serious, and it makes me very afraid,” said Rosine Zaid. “We’re not going to let that happen,” added her friend Lubna Asali.

“We are ready to defend our land. We are against this program,” said 16-year-old Abdel.

He said he supports a Palestinian state, but with its capital in Jerusalem, which the plan acknowledges as Israel’s “undivided” capital.

“If they want to get us out of Israel, we want Jerusalem to follow us,” he said.

Joint List MK Yousef Jabareen talks to AFP during an interview in his hometown Umm al-Fahm, on January 30, 2020 (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

The Trump proposal does not in fact advocate the physical relocation of Triangle residents. Instead, it would change the status of their communities, making them a Palestinian enclave, cut off from the neighboring West Bank by an Israeli barrier erected during the bloody Second Intifada in the early 2000s.

Locals fear that as citizens of a Palestinian state they would lose the benefits of Israel’s thriving economy, its health and welfare system and the freedom to enter Israel, where many of their relatives have lived since before the creation of the Jewish state in 1948.

“We are part of the Arab minority in Israel and we live on our national land,” said Jabareen, a member of the Israeli parliament and an Umm al-Fahm native. “We refuse this plan, we want to continue to exist both socially and politically.

“I am Arab, I am Palestinian, and I am also a citizen of the State of Israel,” he added, saying that he feared the Triangle would become a “canton” landlocked in Israel.

He said implementing the plan would shrink the Arab population of Israel and erode its influence. Arabs currently number about 1.8 million, around 20 percent of Israel’s population.

Arab Israeli NGO Adallah also accused the proposal of seeking a demographic shift through “racially-motivated separation.”

Labor party leader Amir Peretz speaks in Tel Aviv, January 20, 2020. (Flash90)

Labor-Gesher-Meretz chairman Amir Peretz similarly blasted the Trump plan proposition on Saturday, saying “there is nothing more dangerous than talk of the transfer of Arab Israeli citizens.”

“We, as Jews living as a minority in various Diaspora countries cannot legitimize discourse that undermines minority rights on the grounds of their religion,” he said during an onstage interview in Kafr Qasim.

Separately Saturday, Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman praised the Trump plan’s Triangle proposition, saying he was thrilled that the White House was prepared to adopt a policy he has long touted.

The firebrand right-wing lawmaker known for sparring with Arab Israeli MKs said his party would support legislative efforts to annex parts of the West Bank, even before the upcoming March election, and predicted that such measures would pass if brought before the cabinet.

Avigdor Liberman speaks during a press conference at the Knesset on December 11, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

However, Liberman went on to claim that Netanyahu was trying to use the Trump plan as a tool to avoid dealing with a “collapsing healthcare system, the budget deficit, religious coercion and submission to Hamas.”

An additional protest against the Trump plan was to be held on Saturday in Tel Aviv, where MKs from the Labor-Gesher-Meretz and Joint List parties were slated to speak.

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