WASHINGTON – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu encouraged the Trump administration to add to its Mideast plan a provision raising the possibility that Israel's Arab citizens living in an area of Israel known as “The Triangle" would be stripped of their Israeli citizenship and forced to live under Palestinian rule, sources involved in the talks between Israel and the U.S. have said.
Numerous sources who were involved in the discussions between Israel and the U.S. over the so-called "Deal of the Century" unveiled last week in Washington told Haaretz that Netanyahu first discussed this idea with the Trump administration in July 2017, when Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, was visiting Israel.
Netanyahu's office hasn't denied his involvemet in the matter, saying that decision on what the plan will include were made by the White House, which declined to comment.
The final 181-page document mentions this idea, stating that Arab-Israeli citizens residing in a cluster of towns along the Green Line (the pre-1967 borders of Israel) that was given to Israel as part of the 1949 Armistice agreement, could become citizens of a future Palestinian state and lose their Israeli citizenship. The plan suggests that these towns, which are home to more than 200,000 Israeli citizens, could become “part of the State of Palestine,” assuming that such a state will be established.
According to the Trump administration, “these communities, which largely self-identify as Palestinian,” would become part of the lands that Israel would give the Palestinians in return for annexing all Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
In addition, the plan “contemplates the possibility, subject to agreement of the parties, that the borders of Israel will be redrawn such that the Triangle Communities become part of the State of Palestine. In this agreement, the civil rights of the residents of the triangle communities would be subject to the applicable laws and judicial rulings of the relevant authorities.”
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It's not at all clear whether the “parties” that would have to give their consent to this arrangement are the Israeli and Palestinian governments, or the Israeli citizens living in the Triangle. The plan's current wording also doesn’t offer these citizens any mechanism allowing them to keep their Israeli citizenship if they wish to do so.
The idea of revoking the citizenship of Israeli Arabs and forcing them to live under Palestinian rule has been endorsed by various right-wing politicians in Israel over the years, but the Trump administration is the first in the history of America's relationship with Israel to express openness toward it, and include it in an official document released by the White House.
Netanyahu first discussed the idea with Kushner back in 2017, after the American team had just started working on the peace plan. Netanyahu, according to Israeli and American sources who were involved in the discussions, explained at the time that he would not be able to support any American plan that called for the evacuation of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and that there was a way for Israel to annex all the settlements while offering the Palestinians land in return: transferring Arab towns in the Triangle area to the future Palestinian state.
This idea eventually made its way into the American document, but as an option rather than a concrete policy. Nevertheless, the clause mentioning the Triangle communities sparked uproar among Israel’s Arab citizens after the unveiling of the plan. Lawmakers from the Joint List, an alliance of four Israeli Arab parties, have accused the administration of supporting a “transfer” of citizens, and have announced that the endorsement of this idea by Trump and Netanyahu would lead to higher turnout among Israel's Arab citizens in the coming general election on March 2.
In the days following the plan's release, both the Trump administration and Netanyahu’s office have tried to quell the heated debate on the matter. U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman told reporters Wednesday that “no one is being stripped of citizenship” under the American plan. Netanyahu’s office, meanwhile, told Channel 12 News on Sunday that the idea of transferring the Triangle communities to Palestinian control is “unrealistic” and not likely to happen.
“The Americans added this idea to their plan after polling its popularity among the Israeli public,” Channel 12 quoted officials in Netanyahu's offices as saying. However, the original suggestion to add this option to the document was made by Netanyahu more than two years ago, when the most fervent supporter in Israeli politics of this idea, Avigdor Lieberman, was still a senior member of Netanyahu’s coalition. Lieberman stated last week that the American openness toward this policy shows that his views have been adopted by the Trump administration.
The possibility that Israeli Arab citizens may lose their citizenship under a future agreement has also raised concerns among American Jewish organizations. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the leading U.S. organization devoted to fighting anti-Semitism, racism and discrimination, said in a statement that “ADL strongly believes Israel’s Arab citizens are an integral part of Israeli society, with full citizenship and equal rights under Israeli law. Any effort to strip Israel’s Arab population of their citizenship without their consent would go against the country’s democratic principles and character.”
Bashing Netanyahu for allegedly promoting the idea of transferring Israeli Arabs to a Palestinian state, Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh said that Netanyahu's "dangerous attempt to revoke the citizenship of 400,000 Israeli Arab citizens, who were born here, is conveying a clear message to all of Israel's Arab citizens: 'You are not welcome here and your turn will come when the next plan is released.'"