Israeli Arab MKs thrash Liberman over call for ‘transfer’
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Israeli Arab MKs thrash Liberman over call for ‘transfer’

Leader of Joint (Arab) List slams 'crazy right-wing' defense minister new call for population transfer in any peace deal

Ayman Odeh, carrying one of his three children, casting his vote in Nazareth on Israel's Election Day, March 17, 2015. (Basal Awidat/Flash90)
Ayman Odeh, carrying one of his three children, casting his vote in Nazareth on Israel's Election Day, March 17, 2015. (Basal Awidat/Flash90)

Israel’s top Arab lawmaker slammed the country’s defense minister for calling for an arrangement by which many of the country’s Arab citizens would be given Palestinian citizenship instead of Israeli under a peace deal.

Joint (Arab) List head Ayman Odeh, one of several lawmakers named by Avigdor Liberman in a missive sent out Monday morning, said the defense minister feared increasing Arab-Israeli political power.

“The settler government knows that the Arab minority will be a crucial part in the battle to replace the government, and therefore, they are obsessively preoccupied with threatening to expel us from the citizenry,” Odeh said, accusing the government of calling for a “forceful transfer of a civilian population.”

“To the indignation of Liberman and the rest of the crazy right-wing, the Joint List will continue to grow and become stronger in the next elections until we have the critical weight to overthrow the current government,” Odeh concluded.

Ahead of a trip to Israel and the West Bank by US President Donald Trump’s special envoy for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Jason Greenblatt, Liberman on Monday said Greenblatt should “learn lessons from the past,” pitching the US official on his long-held belief that certain Israeli Arab towns should be made part of a Palestinian state, with many of the residents of those towns taking on Palestinian citizenship instead of Israeli.

“The only way to reach a sustainable solution is land swaps and population transfers as part of a general regional agreement,” Liberman wrote on Facebook. “It can’t be that there will be a Palestinian state without any Jews — 100 percent Palestinian — and alongside that Israel will be a binational state with 22% Palestinians.”

“There is no reason that Sheikh Raed Salah, Ayman Odeh, Basel Ghattas or Haneen Zoabi should continue to be citizens of Israel,” Liberman added, referring to the leader of the banned northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel and members of the Joint (Arab) List Knesset faction, respectively.

Liberman’s controversial plan 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 Jewish settlement areas of the West Bank coming under Israeli sovereignty.

Moldova-born Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman attends the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset, on March 6, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Moldova-born Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman attends the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset, on March 6, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Joint (Arab) List, which is made up for four factions, won a surprising 13 seats in the Knesset in the 2014 elections, becoming the second largest party in the opposition.

Recent polls have shown Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party losing votes in the next elections, leaving room for a center-left or national unity government to take over.

However, the Joint (Arab) List has not yet confirmed it would agree to join any ruling coalition.

Responding to the defense minister’s statement, MK Yousef Jabarin (Joint List), who was a practicing lawyer, said Liberman’s plan amounted to a war crime.

“Practically speaking, Liberman is calling for a transfer, which is a war crime. The fate of the war criminals will be at the International Criminal Court in Hague,” he said,

Jabarin also took the defense minister to task for comparing the rights of Arab citizens of Israel to settlers in the West Bank.

Joint List MK Yousef Jabarin attends a Knesset committee meeting on December 22, 2015 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Joint (Arab) List MK Yousef Jabarin attends a Knesset committee meeting on December 22, 2015 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“[Liberman] exhibits a lot of ignorance in the comparison he makes between Arab citizens and settlers. Arab citizens of Israel were given citizenship not out of an act of kindness, but due to the fact that they live in their homeland…This is in stark contrast to West Bank settlers who are staying there illegally,” he said.

The international community considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegal, while they are considered legal under Israeli law.

MK Basel Ghattas (Joint List) said the fact that Liberman was born in the Soviet Union and moved to Israel made him a “passing visitor” while “Palestinians living in Israel own the place.”

“There’s no doubt that Liberman, a migrant from Moldova, doesn’t understand what it means to be born in your land, and in any agreement in the future, there is no room for settlers stealing the land of the Palestinian state, and no room for despicable racist migrants like Yvette,” Ghattas wrote, using a common nickname for Liberman.

Greenblatt’s visit will be the first major attempt by the new US administration to tackle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, after two months which have seen officials dither on support for the two-state solution, the location of the US Embassy and opposition to building in settlements.

On Friday, Trump held his first phone conversation with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, inviting him to visit the White House.

According to reports, Trump and his team want to broker a regional peace initiative that will include Israel, the Palestinians, Saudi Arabia and others.

On Sunday, Abbas said that his phone conversation with Trump was “constructive” and that Trump “confirmed his full commitment to the peace process.”

He added: “We will continue to cooperate with [Trump], in order to arrive at a comprehensive and just peace that will bring security and stability to everyone.”

Other Palestinian sources said that Trump told Abbas he wanted to broker a deal, and that he referred to Abbas as a “partner.”

The goal of Greenblatt’s visit is reportedly to formulate the Trump administration’s position on settlements, including what the US will accept in terms of where and how much Israel can build, and to arrange Abbas’s visit to Washington.

Tamar Pileggi contributed to this report.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story erroneously included that Abbas said Trump had expressed commitment to a two-state deal, based on a Palestinian transcript of the speech.

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