A two-state deal in the making?

Israeli PM Olmert and President Peres have strongly denied reports that they are talking about a two-state deal with the Palestinians that will allow Israel to keep about 5% of the heavily Jewish portions of the West Bank, while compensating the Palestinians with some Arab-populated territory within the 1967 lines, with the consent of the residents.

Although this would be a rational way of bringing about a two-state solution, insofar as any such solution could be made to work, it is impossible for at least two reasons.

First, very few Arab citizens of Israel, no matter how ‘Palestinized’ they may have become, will be prepared to trade the conditions they enjoy in Israel for life in a Palestinian state governed by the Islamist Hamas or the corrupt Fatah.

And second, the PA is not interested in “populated-area exchange” because they see the Israeli Arab population as a lever to put pressure on Israel, even as a possible fifth column in the event of a regional war. The last thing they want is fewer Arabs inside Israel.

M.K. Avigdor LiebermanIn fact, a form of this plan was proposed by right-wing cabinet minister Avigdor Lieberman in 2004:

The Lieberman Plan suggests a territorial exchange whereby Israel would acquire most Jewish regions in the West Bank at the same time as it would cede Arab regions of Israel to the Palestinian Authority. There are three major Arab regions in Israel, all contigious with the West Bank; (1) the southern and central Galilee, (2) the central region known as “the Triangle” and (3) the Bedouin region in the northern part of the Negev desert. Giving up these three regions would reduce the number of Israeli Arab citizens by 90%. Only those Arabs living in isolated villages and as minorities in Jewish cities would remain. The ethnically Druze community which is Zionist would also remain part of Israel. All remaining citizens whether Jews or Arabs would have to pledge an oath of allegiance to the state in order to keep their Israeli citizenship.

It would be ironic indeed to find Shimon Peres and Avigdor Lieberman on the same side of this issue, but even if the report is true, it’s certain that an Olmert/Peres plan would differ significantly from Lieberman’s. In response to the rumor, Lieberman said,

“I welcome the acceptance of my idea of population exchanges, because there is no other solution… The solution must include all of the settlement blocs and leave Jerusalem united under Israeli sovereignty. But there is no sense in talking about a Palestinian state until the PA proves itself.”

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