Israeli Arabs wave Palestinian flags during a rally in the northern Arab-Israeli town of Sakhnin
Israeli Arabs waving Palestinian flags during a rally in the northern Arab-Israeli town of Sakhnin on March 30, 2013 commemorating the 37th anniversary of 'Land Day.' Photo by AFP
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The Foreign Ministry has prepared a legal opinion authorizing the transfer of the Triangle and the Wadi Ara regions from Israel to a Palestinian state, if and when one arises. In his opinion, which was reported yesterday by Barak Ravid in Haaretz, ministry legal advisor Ehud Keinan wrote that this would be legal according to international law, under certain conditions.

There’s no point getting into a discussion about whether the conditions laid down in the opinion are in fact sufficient to legalize such a move or not. The very fact that the Foreign Ministry is discussing transferring part of the population outside the borders of the State of Israel for ethnic and nationalist reasons is unacceptable in principle. The ministry’s legal advisor was drafted to create a legal basis for Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s diplomatic plan, which he has touted repeatedly on numerous different occasions. But the plan itself is unacceptable in principle.

The fact that a government ministry is engaged in promoting a plan for population exchanges, which means transferring hundreds of thousands of citizens from sovereign Israeli territory to the sovereignty of another country because of their ethnic affiliation, sends an extremely grave message to Israel’s Arab population – about a fifth of the country’s total population. The foreign minister, and now his ministry as well, are effectively telling the state’s Arab citizens that they aren’t wanted in the State of Israel, and their citizenship is temporary and conditional.

At a time when Israeli Arabs are gradually turning into Israelis, integrating into Israel’s culture and economy despite all the difficulties and discrimination they are forced to cope with, along comes their country and shows them the door. At a time when the government’s efforts ought to be focused on reducing discrimination and increasing equality – on the full integration of Israeli Arabs as citizens of the state with equal rights and opportunities – along come Lieberman and his aides, taking steps to exclude Israeli Arabs, increase their alienation from their country and ultimately banish them from it.

Lieberman’s plan, like the opinion issued by his ministry’s legal advisor, has a single overarching goal: turning Israel into a pure ethnic and religious state. Therefore, the goal of this plan cannot be described as anything other than ethnic cleansing – even if not by force of arms.

Both the plan and the legal opinion that authorizes it must be shelved immediately. The Arab minority will continue to be part of Israel, and the state must do everything in its power to integrate it, instead of trying to push it out.