Lieberman’s Land, Population Swap Proposal Is Roundly Condemned

Foreign minister, countering critics of his idea to transfer some heavily Arab areas of northern Israel to a Palestinian state in any peace agreement: 'The Arabs of Wadi Ara have suddenly become Lovers of Zion’

Haaretz Staff
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Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who last week said that one of the key conditions that he would require in any peace agreement with the Palestinians would be a territorial swap that would include the transfer of the predominantly Arab Wadi Ara area in northern Israel to the Palestinian state, has countered criticism of his idea. He pointedly criticized Arab residents of the area on his Facebook page who had objected to his proposal.

“All of a sudden, the Arabs of Wadi Ara have become Lovers of Zion,” Lieberman wrote. “In interviews on various television stations with residents of Umm al-Fahm [a major Israeli Arab town in Wadi Ara], we’ve seen those same people who instead of celebrating Israeli Independence Day mark Nakba Day and fly black flags instead of Israeli flags.” Nakba (“catastrophe”) is a reference to the term used by Palestinians for what happened to them with the creation of the State of Israel.

“[They are ] those same people who at their gatherings display pictures of [Lebanese Shiite Muslim militia leader Hassan] Nasrallah and Hamas and Hezbollah flags. Precisely those same people are now outraged over the intention, as part of a peace agreement that would include an exchange of territories and populations, that they would become citizens of the Palestinian state,” Lieberman wrote. “All of a sudden, they are an integral part of the State of Israel. All of a sudden [the founder of the political Zionist movement Theodor] Herzl is their national hero. “Hatikva” [Israel’s national anthem] is a hit.”

Referring to an Arab Knesset member and lyrics from the anthem, Lieberman added: “And in Ahmed Tibi and his colleagues a Jewish soul really yearns.”

Lieberman also took Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to task for his demand that Israeli Arabs be freed as part of a release by Israel of Palestinian security prisoners. “[Abbas], who is so concerned about the release of Israeli Arabs sitting in prison as a result of terrorist activities against the State of Israel, is suddenly crying out in distress over the thought that they would become his citizens,” Lieberman wrote.

The foreign minister also hinted in his Facebook post at remarks by Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, who criticized Lieberman’s proposal while on a visit to the Israeli Arab town of Sakhnin. “An Israeli citizen does not wish to and is not subject to transfer in the framework of a peace agreement,” Sa’ar said. “The Arabs of Israel are equal citizens and in any future peace agreement, their citizenship should not be harmed. One can talk about equal rights and equal responsibilities, but taking away citizenship does not have to be under consideration.”

In his Facebook post, Lieberman made reference to “bleeding hearts on the left and another few loose ends who talk about how the Arabs of the Triangle [a major area of Israeli Arab population] and do not want it to be possible to have it transferred from one sovereignty to another.”

Lieberman added that no one was talking about the residents’ physical transfer to the Palestinian state, but instead that the areas in which they are now living would become part of that state.

“[These bleeding hearts] were not shocked,” Lieberman wrote, “when [former cabinet minister] Yossi Beilin in the Geneva Initiative [peace plan] wanted to transfer the residents of East Jerusalem to Palestinian sovereignty and to deprive them of [Israeli] identity cards, and they didn’t bat an eye when [Israeli] residents of Sinai or Gush Katif [in the Gaza Strip] were physically transferred rather than just changing sovereignty.”

There are many historical precedents, Lieberman wrote, when it comes to an exchange of territory and populations and the moving of borders that have achieved what Lieberman said was “the creation of homogenous countries and the end of internal disputes.”

Lieberman’s proposed transfer of Israeli territory with large Arab populations to the Palestinian state has engendered widespread criticism in the Israeli Arab community. The former mayor of Umm al-Fahm, Sheikh Hashem Abdel Rahman, told Haaretz that similar ideas had been proposed in the past but various people, including former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, had made it clear to him that such a proposal was not serious.

Arab Knesset members Jamal Zahalka of the Balad party and Tibi of the United Arab List-Ta’al roundly rejected Lieberman’s proposal. Zahalka said the plan could have “dangerous practical consequences,” while Tibi called it crazy and immoral. “Arab citizens of Israel are not chess pieces that are moved from here to there,” he said.

Official sources in the Palestinian Authority said this week that the proposal is not under consideration and would not be discussed at any stage of the negotiations. The Americans also do not take it seriously, the Palestinian sources said, and have not raised it in meetings with the PA’s leadership. A senior Palestinian official told Haaretz that in the most recent talks that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry held with the Palestinian side, a range of proposals on the entire range of the core issues of the conflict were discussed. The Palestinians, the sources said, are attempting to advance them in a way that will not harm Palestinian national interests.

Foreign Minister Avigdor LiebermanCredit: Emil Salman