Israeli Arab politicians responded furiously Sunday to Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's suggestion suggesting that "disloyal" members of that sector should take Palestinian citizenship.
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The question of Israel's citizens needs to be one of the central issues on the negotiating table, in light of the Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state," Lieberman said ahead of Sunday's weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.
Recognizing Israel as uniquely Jewish is one of the key demands by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the latest peace talks with the Palestinians, which began earlier this month.
"We can't continue to ignore issues like that of Hanin Zuabi, who identifies completely with the other side," Lieberman said, , referring to an Israeli Arab member of Knesset was stripped of her parliamentary privileges after sailing aboard a pro-Palestinian aid convoy attacked by Israel en route to the Gaza Strip.
"It's as if someone sells you a flat and then demands that his mother-in-law continues living there," he said. "Any Israeli you takes pride in his citizenship should be able to serve in any post, but people like Hanin Zuabi should in my opinion be Palestinian citizens elected under Hamas in Gaza."
In response to Lieberman's remarks, Zuabi declared: "We [Israeli Arabs] represent the only possible democratic option, while Lieberman represents apartheid and ethnic cleansing."
"Lieberman bases his claims on a doctrine of racism, while I base mine on the principle of full equality among citizens – but both of us agree that there needs to be a discussion on the question of Palestinians in Israel and how to classify the state in any negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians," she added.
MK Ahmed Tibi pointedly referred to Lieberman's status as an immigrant from the former Soviet Union, saying: "We aren't calling for the expulsion of citizens from within the State of Israel, but if we were, then whoever got here in the last century should leave first."
"It is very serious that the deputy prime minister is a settler who is constantly concerned with programs pertaining to the expulsion of citizens or the collective expropriation of citizenship," he said.
"We were here before the fascist immigrant Lieberman and we will stay here even after him," Tibi declared.
Israeli Arab MK Mohammed Barakeh said his sector just wanted to "live with hםnor and in equality in our own homes."
Lieberman, whose ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party campaigned under the slogan "no loyalty, no citizenship", has made national allegiance a central component of his political agenda, demanding all Israelis, swear an oath of loyalty to the state.
The foreign minister's remarks came just days after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak dismissed as "unnecessary" Israel's demand to be recognized by the Palestinians as a Jewish.
"I say to Israeli citizens, including Jews, Muslims and others, that there is no such thing as a state in which all the citizens are Jews," Mubarak said. "In Egypt, we have Muslims, Christians and Jews and there is no problem. When they wanted to establish a Muslim state in Kosovo, the world came out against it because it did not want a Muslim state in central Europe."
Israeli Arabs make up around a fifth of the country's population.