Israeli Arab Leaders: Lieberman's Land Swap Proposal Is Delusional

'We are unwilling to act as pawns in the service of Lieberman and the Israeli right,' says Israeli Arab MK Ahmed Tibi.

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
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Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

Israeli Arab leaders brushed aside Foreign Minister Avidgor Lieberman’s proposal of land and population swaps with the Palestinian Authority on Monday, calling it delusional and immoral.

The city of Umm al-Fahm published a statement after a meeting of the city council branding Lieberman’s proposal as a “second Nakba,” using the Arabic word for the “catastrophe,” and referring to what happened to Palestinians during Israel’s founding in 1948.

Lieberman said Sunday he would only support a peace agreement with Palestinians that involved transferring Jewish settlement blocs in the West Bank over to Israel in return for parts of Israel with predominantly Arab populations.

Umm al-Fahm city council members rejected the comparison between Arab towns in Israel’s Wadi Ara and Triangle region and settlements beyond the Green Line.

“We are the children of this land. We inherited it from our ancestors, and nobody can speak or negotiate on our behalf in any future agreement with the Palestinians,” the statement read.

The city council called on Palestinian Authority negotiators to disregard Lieberman’s offer, stressing that while Israeli Arab citizens consider themselves part of the Palestinian nation, they “are unwilling to act as pawns in the service of Lieberman and the Israeli right.”

Former Umm al-Fahm Mayor Hashem Abd Al-Rahman told Haaretz that a similar population swap was already proposed in 2003, and that at the time he was told by many officials, including then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and many ambassadors that this was not a serious proposal that would be implemented. Al-Rahman suggested renewing the call to the international community, including the United States, to openly express their opposition to the proposal.

MK Jamal Zahalka, chairman of Balad and a resident of Kfar Kara said that Lieberman’s plan is rejected by both the Israeli Arab public and the Palestinian Authority.

“This plan might have dangerous repercussions, placing a question mark on the legitimacy our citizenship,” he said. “Who would want to invest in an area that might be part of a different state?”

MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta’al), a resident of Taibeh, defined the proposal as delusional and immoral, adding that it was never raised in the negotiations by Israel or the United States, but is nonetheless still promoted by Lieberman every so often.

“We take our nationality seriously, as well as our citizenship. Israeli Arab citizens are not pawns to be moved on a board. The mere comparison with the settlers is absurd, but if the Israeli government is willing to recognize UN decision 181 [the 1947 partition plan], it should give us a call.”

Officials in the PA said Monday that Lieberman’s proposal was never mentioned or debated during the current round of talks. They said that the United States would not consider such an idea and has never raised the issue during meetings with Palestinian leaders. The proposal wasn’t mentioned by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on his last visit to Ramallah.

A senior Palestinian official told Haaretz Palestinian negotiators told Kerry they would not concede on Israeli demand to maintain a military presence in the Jordan Valley.

“The secretary of state presented various proposals dealing with all core issues, and we’re trying to promote these proposals in a manner that would not harm or violate national Palestinian principles,” the official said. “In this context, there is a serious discussion as to security presence in the Jordan Valley and the Palestinians have already clarified that we would not oppose an international force, but cannot accept Israeli military presence.”

The official added that the demand to recognize Israel as a Jewish state was raised in the last meeting between Kerry and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, but that it wasn’t the central issue and that the Palestinian position has not changed. Another issue that was widely discussed was the land the Palestinians would receive in compensation for the settlement blocs, but so far there is no agreement between the sides, and the Americans are still searching for a draft proposal that would be acceptable to both.

Abbas praised Kerry’s efforts on Monday, adding that it was an extremely difficult undertaking but that a treaty, would afford Israel “the fruits of peace.”

Also on Monday, Abbas’ spokesperson, Nabil Abu Rudeineh slammed what he called ‘an incitement drive by the Israeli government against the Palestinian Authority, designed to renounce its commitment to the peace process.”

Abbas is scheduled to meet in Amman with King Abdullah, following Kerry’s visit to Jordan. A Palestinian source told Haaretz that Abbas plans to brief the Palestinian leadership in the upcoming days on recent developments in the talks, in preparation for Kerry’s next visit to the region on March 14th.

MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta’al) at a Knesset debate on banks' discrimination against Arabs.Credit: Emil Salman

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