Netanyahu Offers Swapping Israeli Arab Communities With Settlements in Future Deal With Palestinians

PM raises idea of land swap in talks with senior Trump adviser Kushner and envoy Greenblatt, sources say. White House officials: One of many ideas discussed

Trump's special envoys Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt meet Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, June 21, 2017.
Trump's special envoys Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt meet Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, June 21, 2017. Matty Stern / U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has suggested to American officials that Israeli-Arab communities could be moved under Palestinian control as part of a final status agreement, Israeli officials said on Thursday. In exchange, Israel would annex some West Bank settlements.

Netanyahu's idea for land swaps in the Wadi Ara region in return for Israeli settlements was reported for the first time on Thursday on Channel 2 News.

The officials, who requested anonymity, said Netanyahu raised the idea in the talks with U.S. President Donald Trump's senior advisor Jared Kushner and American envoy Jason Greenblatt, during their visit in Israel a few weeks ago.

"The issue didn't come up as a separate proposal, but as part of a proposal for a comprehensive arrangement with the Palestinians," one official said.

Senior White House officials said the issue was broached in the talks, but not in a serious or significant way. "This may have been one of many ideas discussed several weeks ago in the context of a peace agreement and not in the context of a separate annexation," an official said.

The report came a day after a mass funeral in Umm al-Fahm, an Arab city in Israel's Wadi Ara, of the three assailants who carried out the attack at the Temple Mount, in which two policemen were killed.

Calls for carrying out further attacks heard during the funeral evoked more criticism in the right wing against Netanyahu's decision to remove the contested metal detectors from the entrances to the Temple Mount. Israel had installed the security measure at the holy site following the attack.

The report also comes amid a wave of announcements and statements from the Prime Minister's Office in the last few days in a bid to appease rightist public opinion. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who has been advocating for several years to hand over Wadi Ara to the Palestinians in a future peace agreement, tweeted on Thursday night: "Mr. prime minister, welcome to the club."

MK Aida Touma-Suliman responded on Thursday to the report about Netanyahu's proposal. "The cat is out of the bag and Netanyahu has shown his true colors regarding the Arab population," she said. "Lieberman's plan has been adopted by the prime minister," she said.

"The Ara residents are not only Israeli citizens, they're also indigenous people who dwell on their land, and are not to be compared with settlers dwelling on another nation's land. We the Arab citizens aren't part of any such equation and aren't willing to pay the price again for Israel's policy of occupation and settlements."