Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman’s plan to transfer jurisdiction of some Israeli Arab towns, with their approximately 300,000 residents, to a future Palestinian state has the support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, according to senior officials in Likud-Beytenu quoted by Maariv Friday. There was no confirmation of the report.
Unnamed official sources told the newspaper that Netanyahu has concluded that, in the event of an agreement with the Palestinians, the demographic factor must be taken into consideration, which would mean amending the borders to include some Israeli Arab towns in the new Palestinian state as Israel would include some West Bank Jewish settlements. The officials said that, during negotiations with the Palestinian Authority in recent months, Livni brought up the names of specific towns and villages to be included in the Palestinian state.
“She is now expressing support for expanding the principle in the direction of the Liberman plan,” one source said. “Pay attention to the fact that, after the things Liberman said at the ambassadors’ summit [to the effect that peace required exchanging territory and populations], there were two people who chose not to discuss the issue — Netanyahu and Livni,” a senior official said. “It’s not a coincidence.”
In the past, Netanyahu has rejected such an approach. Earlier this month, President Shimon Peres rejected the idea of a population transfer as “impractical,” adding that “Israel cannot take away its citizens’ citizenship simply because they’re Arab.”
But the sources in Likud-Beytenu said the idea is gaining support even outside of the government. Americans involved in the negotiations are also warming to the idea, they claimed. “They also see more than a little logic in the plan.”
In a statement posted on Liberman’s Facebook page 10 days ago, he heaped scorn on opponents of his plan, which 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 the Jewish settlement blocs of the West Bank. Liberman pointed to the alleged hypocrisy of the Arab residents of the cities in question, saying that in the past they had strongly identified with the Palestinian cause, rejecting the right of Israel to exist and aligning themselves with those seeking to destroy the Jewish state.
“The Arabs of Wadi Ara have suddenly become adorers of Zion,” the FM wrote sarcastically. “In interviews with the residents of Umm al-Fahm on the various television stations, we saw those same people who, instead of celebrating [Israel’s] Independence Day, mark Nakba Day and wave black flags instead of Israeli flags… those same people who, in their rallies, wave pictures of [Hezbollah head Hassan] Nasrallah and the flags of Hamas and Hezbollah — those people are now objecting to the intention that, as part of a peace agreement that will include land and population transfers, they will be citizens of a Palestinian state.”
The foreign minister also criticized Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for his objections to the plan. “Abbas, who is so concerned about freeing the Israeli Arabs sitting in prison because of terror activities against Israel, is suddenly crying out in protest against the thought that they will become his citizens,” he said.
Liberman pointed to a 2003 extra0governmental peace proposal spearheaded by former Israeli minister Yossi Beilin and former Palestinian Authority minister Yasser Abed Rabbo, which called for making East Jerusalem the capital of a Palestinian state.
“And the bleeding hearts on the left and their ilk, who talk so much about how the Arabs of The Triangle are not an object that can be moved from one jurisdiction to another (because there was no intent to move them physically) — they weren’t moved when, in the Geneva Initiative, Yossi Belin wanted to transfer the residents of East Jerusalem to Palestinian jurisdiction and to nullify their [Israeli] identity cards, and they didn’t blink when the residents of Sinai or Gush Katif were physically transferred and did not just have their jurisdiction transferred.
“There are many historical precedents for land and population swaps, and for the alteration of borders that enabled the creation of homogeneous states and the end of internal conflicts,” Liberman wrote. Invoking the memory of Theodor Herzl and his aspirations to create a Jewish state, he concluded: “Therefore, there is no reason to think that the matter is not feasible. After all, we know that’s what they said about the Zionist dream, or in short, “If you will it, it is no dream.”
Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar expressed objection to Liberman’s proposal, saying that any long-term agreement must specify 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 is not transferable as part of a framework political agreement.”
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. At the beginning of January, unnamed sources told Maariv that The Triangle plan — which involves 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.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.