Report: Netanyahu suggested to US that Arab Israeli towns be placed in Palestine
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Report: Netanyahu suggested to US that Arab Israeli towns be placed in Palestine

American and Israeli officials involved in talks tell Haaretz that PM framed redrawing of borders as compensation to Palestinians for annexation of settlements

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu listens to Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, January 30, 2020. (Maxim Shemetov/Pool Photo via AP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu listens to Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, January 30, 2020. (Maxim Shemetov/Pool Photo via AP)

The controversial suggestion in the US peace plan of redrawing Israel’s borders to see multiple Arab towns included in the future Palestinian state was proposed to Washington by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to a report Tuesday.

The Haaretz news site reported that 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.

On Sunday, senior officials in the Prime Minister’s Office speaking to Channel 12 news dismissed any notion of Arab towns in the so-called Triangle area changing hands, and seemed to indicate the idea had come from the US, rather than Israel.

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner during a television interview outside the White House in Washington, January 29, 2020. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

The Triangle is an area southeast of Haifa, near the Palestinian West Bank city of Jenin, which includes 14 towns and villages where more than 260,000 Arab Israelis live. Residents of those areas have protested against the idea that they may one day be redefined as living in a new Palestinian state.

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.

View of Umm al-Fahm, June 22, 2017. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/Times of Israel)

The Trump plan suggestion does not 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.

Officials in the PMO told Channel 12 the idea mentioned in the Trump plan is unrealistic because it requires agreement by all sides.

The officials, who were not identified in the Channel 12 report, said the citizenship transfer is 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 hawkish Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman who has long advocated for such adjustments in any peace deal with the Palestinians.

US President Donald Trump unveiled his long-awaited peace plan last week in Washington. Netanyahu, who stood alongside Trump in the White House during the roll-out, immediately indicated his support for the plan, but the Palestinian leadership emphatically rejected the proposal.

While the plan contains many aspects that appeal to the right wing of the Israeli political spectrum — in particular the extension of Israeli sovereignty to West Bank settlements, and the maintenance of overall Israeli security control everywhere to the west of the Jordan border — it also lays the path for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Arab Israelis take part in a rally to express their opposition to the US-brokered proposal for a settlement of the Middle East conflict, in the Arab-Israeli town of Baqa al-Gharbiya in northern Israel on February 1, 2020. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

Joint List leader MK Ayman Odeh responded to the Channel 12 report by tweeting: “Netanyahu was worried that the transfer clause will encourage [Arab] voters [to go to the polls] so he gave in,” and walked back his support.

“He is again proving that nothing scares him more than the Arabs in the voting booth,” Odeh wrote. Netanyahu has been accused in the past of trying to repress the Arab vote through scare tactics.

On Saturday, hundreds of Arab Israelis demonstrated in northern Israel against the so-called transfer clause in the the US peace plan.

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.

US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrive for an event in the East Room of the White House at which Trump presented his Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal, Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

On Saturday, 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 advocated.

Trump’s 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.

On Saturday the 22-member Arab League of Nations unanimously rejected the Trump plan, saying it was unfair to the Palestinians.

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