Why Israeli Arabs oppose land swaps

Nothing irritates Israeli Arabs more than talk of land and population swaps, and it’s interesting to see why.

The idea of a swap, promoted by Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beiteinu party, seems like a practical solution to a difficult problem.

Implementing a partition of the land from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean — the so-called two-state solution –  by simply returning to the 1949 cease-fire lines would not be acceptable to Israel, and indeed very unfair. Since the Palestinians are not prepared to permit Jews to live in ‘Palestine’, all 300,000 Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria (for the purposes of this article, I’m ignoring the very difficult issue of Jerusalem) would have to be moved. Considering the difficulty and expense of evacuating 8,000 people from Gaza, this kind of population movement is unimaginable.

I am not going to belabor the irony that the Palestinians, who insist that Israel’s policy in the territories constitutes ‘racist apartheid’ find no difficulty themselves in proposing a racist apartheid state!

In any event, UN Security Council resolution 242, generally considered the legal foundation for the two-state solution, does not call for a reversion to the pre-1967 status quo. Rather, it says that in the framework of a peace agreement, Israel will return territories (but not all the territories — see here for interpretations by the original drafters of the resolution) to Arab control in return for an end of the conflict and “secure and recognized boundaries.” Since then many observers have pointed out that the 1949 lines are not at all secure.

Most of the two-state proposals, such as those made at Camp David and by former Israeli PM Olmert in 2007, envision  an agreement based on the 1949 lines, with adjustments for security reasons and to incorporate into Israel large Jewish settlements near the line. In return, Israel has offered to compensate the Palestinians with land west of the boundary. The official Palestinian position has always been that only a strict return to the 1949 lines, along with a complete evacuation of ‘settlers’ would be acceptable, but it’s said that they have indicated a willingness to consider such adjustments in private.

Note that adjustments proposed in the past refer to swaps of land occupied by Jewish settlements for land that’s sparsely populated, from the Negev for example.

The kind of swap proposed by Israel Beiteinu is different: they propose that Israel compensate the Palestinians with land occupied by ‘Israeli Arabs’:

“Israeli Arabs will not lose anything by joining the Palestinian state. Instead of giving the Palestinians empty land in the Negev, we are offering them land full of residents, who will not have to leave their homes,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon in an interview to London-based al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper published [in early February]…

When asked if he was referring to the concentration of Arab towns and villages known as the Triangle region, he said: “Yes. Why not? If the Arabs in Israel say they are proud of being Palestinian, why shouldn’t they be proud of being part of the Palestinian state?

“They will lose nothing by joining it, and in addition, this will be in the interest of the Palestinian state, since they are economically and socially developed and will be able to use their experience to help build the state…”

“…The important thing is to accept the idea that the majority of Jews live in Israel and the majority of Arabs live in Palestine.”  — YNet

The reaction from Arab Knesset members was swift and furious:

MK Ahmad Tibi dismissed Ayalon’s remarks, saying that the deputy FM and his boss, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, “have a basic flaw in understanding the fundamental values of democracy and civil rights.”

“We are not chess pawns. We did not arrive in the country on planes and we did not immigrate here,” Tibi said. “We do not wish to expel anyone…but if someone wishes to expel us, I’ll say this: Whoever got here last will be leaving first. That way, there will be fewer fascists in Israel…”

Hadash’s Chairman, MK Mohammad Barakeh, also slammed Ayalon’s remarks, suggesting that both him and Lieberman move to France and replace ultranationalist leader Jean-Marie Le Pen…

Barakeh added that Israel’s Arabs are residing on their land legally.  “We did not immigrate from anywhere. This land is ours,” he said. “To my regret, most of this land had been robbed over the course of dozens of years. We are no settlers and there is no room for comparison between us and the thieving settlers in the West Bank, including in Jerusalem.”

“Ayalon’s words are yet another chapter in Liebermanism’s new book of racism,” he concluded. — YNet

Keep in mind that Israeli Arabs would not leave their homes under Ayalon’s proposal. The only ‘transfer’ involved would be a transfer of sovereignty over Arab-populated areas from Israel to ‘Palestine’. The Arab MK’s are generating indignation by deliberately misunderstanding, it seems. Why?

After all, if the goal is to end the conflict, one way to do so is to separate the two peoples. That’s been the idea of every partition proposal since the Peel commission of 1937, including the original 1947 UN resolution and the Oslo accord. If it can be accomplished without making anybody leave their homes, isn’t that a win-win solution?

Not from an Arab point of view it isn’t.

There is, of course, the fact that Israeli Arabs prefer the Israeli economy, government benefits, education, health care, etc. to the corrupt, kleptocratic and gangster-ridden Palestinian Authority (PA), but that’s not the main reason for their opposition to swaps.

The real issue is that Arab and Israeli or Western goals for the process are not the same. While the object of Israeli policy has been and continues to be to live at peace with its neighbors — and with its Arab citizens — the Palestinian Arabs have not given up the idea that a sovereign Jewish state anywhere in historic Palestine represents a theft of their property and a blemish on their honor which must be redressed. There is a fundamental asymmetry here which many in the West don’t recognize, tending to see the conflict as amenable to compromise.

From the Arab point of view, the more Arabs who are Israeli citizens, the more effective they can be in the process of changing Israel from a Jewish state into … something else. The Arab goal is not to end the conflict, at least not at this stage and not on the terms offered — an independent Palestine alongside a Jewish Israel. Rather, the idea is that internal pressure, couched in terms of civil rights, democracy and anti-racism, concepts that are very popular in the West, will work together with external forces to bring about the end of the Jewish state and its replacement with an Arab state.

So the PA continues to insist on strict 1949 lines in order to maximize the disruption of Jewish Israel that would be caused by the expulsion of massive numbers of Jews from Judea and Samaria, and of course they refuse to give up the vision of a ‘right of return’ to Israel for millions of Arabs. Meanwhile the various Israeli Arab organizations push for ‘de-Judaization’ of Israel.

Nothing illustrates the Palestinian mindset better than the fact that they will not countenance Jewish ‘settlers’, while they insist on right of return for ‘refugees’. These are not contradictory positions for one who thinks that all the land belongs to Arabs.

Interestingly, ‘progressive’ thought, in the US at least, seems to support the Palestinian project. Recently Rabbi David Saperstein of the Union for Reform Judaism spoke here. He said that two out of the three issues that should be Israel’s top priority were 1) the need to make a deal with the Palestinians while a two-state solution is still possible, and 2) the need to grant ‘civil rights’ to the Israeli Arabs (the third issue was the religious monopoly held by the Orthodox establishment).

My response to the first was was that the worst thing Israel could do would be to make a deal with the Palestinians without a commitment to recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people, to give up the idea of a ‘right of return’, and to end the conflict.  With regard to the second, I have no problem with civil rights for everyone; but ‘civil rights’ do not include the conversion of Israel into a binational state.

Some analysts think that  everything else is just a sideshow and the real issue is the military threat from Iran and its proxies. Without minimizing the external danger, issues surrounding Palestinian Arabs in the territories and inside Israel — especially if their objectives are misunderstood and in effect supported by the US and other external forces — are becoming more and more significant.

Update [10 Mar 1034 PST]: Corrected the number of Judea / Samaria residents to 300,000.

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One Response to “Why Israeli Arabs oppose land swaps”

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    This is the best analysis I have seen of the real motivation of Palestinians living in Israel. I would however make one slight qualification. I believe the economic, medical, educational benefits of living in democratic Israel, rather than what will most likely be corrupt non- democratic Palestinian, are very important to the Palestinian Arabs. But the real bottom line as you indicate is that they believe that by demographic means, and with the help of radical Left fifth- columnists they will transform the character of the state. Their goal in that stage is the end of the Jewish state.
    I myself considering the real loyalties of most Palestinian Arabs think it better for them, wiser for them to agree to be part of a ‘land- swap’. What could be better than to live in an Arab state perhaps even an Islamic state whose ideology they , or at least many of them, share?
    This however does not seem likely to happen.
    Lieberman is in fact telling the truth as it is. There will be no settlement now because the Palestinian Arabs, outside the Green line and within it, really do not accept the idea of a Jewish state. Their honor, pride, sense of themselves will not enable them to do it.
    I only wish the false- hope people in the Western media and in the Western political world would recognize this.
    I wish beyond it that the Arabs would transform their attitude and we would come to some kind of agreement. Unending conflict for generations to come is not after all what the Jewish people have always dreamed of.