Netanyahu disavows Trump plan idea to redraw border around Arab Israeli towns

‘There won’t be a transfer,’ PM says of proposal to make communities in northern Triangle part of a future Palestinian state

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem on February 16, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem on February 16, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has disavowed a suggestion in US President Donald Trump’s peace proposal to redraw Israel’s border to include numerous Arab Israeli towns in a future Palestinian state.

Netanyahu told Arab Israeli news site Panet that the idea had no relevance and was not being considered.

“We need to erase the idea of transfer. There is no transfer. There won’t be a transfer. No one, Jewish or Arab, will be uprooted from his home,” Netanyahu said in an interview Tuesday with the news outlet.

“There won’t be anything like this,” he stressed.

Trump’s plan “contemplates the possibility” that the Triangle, an area southeast of Haifa near the Palestinian West Bank city of Jenin, be included in a Palestinian state “subject to agreement of the parties.”

Residents of the area, which includes 14 towns and villages with more than 260,000 Arab Israelis, have protested against the idea that they may one day be redefined as living in a new Palestinian state.

“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 says.

The Trump plan suggestion does not advocate the physical relocation of Triangle residents, but rather just the redrawing of borders.

View of Arab Israeli city Umm al-Fahm. (Matanya Tausig/Flash90)

The Triangle proposal has been praised by Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman, a hawkish former defense minister, who has long advocated for such adjustments in any peace deal with the Palestinians. The idea, though, remains on the fringe and is rejected by most Arab Israelis and many Jewish Israelis.

Earlier this month, the Haaretz daily reported it was Netanyahu who proposed to Washington that redrawing the border around the Triangle communities be included in the peace plan.

According to the newspaper, Netanyahu first raised the issue in 2017 during one of senior White House adviser Jared Kushner’s first official visits to Israel. It cited Israeli and American officials involved in contacts over the proposal.

They said Netanyahu framed the idea as territorial compensation to the Palestinians for the annexation of Israeli settlements under the plan.

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz, Netanyahu’s chief political rival, has rejected removing Arab Israeli towns to a future Palestinian state.

Arab Israelis protest against US President Donald Trump’s peace plan in the northern city of Umm al-Fahm on January 31, 2019. (Screen capture: Twitter)

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.

Anonymous officials in the Prime Minister’s Office had previously rejected the proposal in comments to Israeli television.

The officials in the PMO told Channel 12 the idea is unrealistic because it requires agreement by all sides, which is currently lacking even on much more straightforward aspects of the plan. They said the proposal was not critical for the Trump plan and was only included because US researchers had conducted a survey that found the notion was popular in Israel, presumably among the Jewish population.

Another reason for its inclusion, the officials suggested, was to win support from Liberman, who was a member of Netanyahu’s ruling coalition until November 2018 and has been seen as a kingmaker in successive rounds of elections.

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