Lieberman's land swap plan illegal
Experts: State can decide to give up territory but cannot revoke citizenship.
It's illegal to strip Israeli Arabs of citizenship as part of a population and territorial swap with the Palestinian Authority to demographically ensure a Jewish majority, legal experts have told The Jerusalem Post. Such a move is a central plank of Israel Beiteinu's diplomatic platform.
Even right-wing attorney Yossi Fuchs, of the Legal Forum for the State of Israel and a member of the Likud central committee, who supports reducing the number of Arab citizens, said that taking away a person's citizenship runs counter to Israeli and international law.
"The state can decide that the Triangle area, populated mostly by Israeli Arabs, is no longer part of Israel. But it cannot revoke the citizenship of the people living there," he said. "The people [Israeli Arab citizens] who remain there will still be Israeli citizens."
International law professor Natan Lerner from the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya called the plan "perverse." He added, "You cannot play with human beings as if they are ping pong balls."
Attorney Hadas Tagari, who formerly worked for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel argued that it was so difficult to revoke a person's citizenship that the High Court of Justice has upheld the citizenship rights of Yigal Amir, who assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, even though he committed a crime against the state.
But Suzie Navot, who teaches parliamentary and constitutional law at the College of Management in Rishon Lezion, said the issue of legality wasn't so clear cut.
Since no such law exists by which citizenship can be lost due to a land transfer, it's hard to determine its legality, she said. If such a plan was the will of the government, then a procedure would be created to try and implement it. The government could pass a bill to such effect in the Knesset, she said.
The bill's legality would then be ruled upon by the High Court of Justice, she added. While a number of legal experts believe the court would reject it, Israel Beiteinu's legal adviser, Ramat Gan attorney Yoav Many, said the court's will is not so clear.
He is among those who believe that the plan is legal and would be accepted not just in Israel but also within the international community. He notes that such a move would be done within the context of an international agreement with the Quartet, so it would then reflect the will of the international community.
Lieberman has also spoken of international support for the idea. As evidence of such acceptance, he and supporters in his campaign point to the fact that former secretary of state Henry Kissinger has spoken approvingly about a similar idea.
While Kissinger has not mentioned Lieberman by name, in a February opinion piece for the Washington Post, Kissinger wrote, "The most logical outcome would be to trade Israeli settlement blocs around Jerusalem - a demand President Bush has all but endorsed - for some equivalent territories in present-day Israel with significant Arab populations. The rejection of such an approach, or alternative available concepts, which would contribute greatly to stability and to demographic balance, reflects a determination to keep incendiary issues permanently open."
Lieberman's plan calls for Israel to retain heavily populated Jewish blocs in the the West Bank in exchange for giving the Palestinian Authority high density Israeli Arab ones within sovereign Israel, such as the Galilee "Triangle" and its Wadi Ara valley, which includes cities like Umm el-Fahm, Taiba and Baka al-Gharbiyeh.
Israeli Arabs who continue living in those areas would become Palestinian citizens, said Many. They would keep their homes and their jobs, he added.
"We are not talking about population transfer," he said. But those who wanted to retain their Israeli citizenship would have to move within Israel's borders and sign a pledge of allegiance to a Zionist state, Many said.
There is a difference between the singular right of an individual and the rights of a group, he said. "It's also not legal to come to a person's home with a bulldozer," but the state did that to hundreds of homes in Gaza when it forced the Jewish residents to evacuate the area, he said.
Nations can change the manner in which they offer citizenship, he said. The problem in Israel is not one of borders but of ethnicity. Lieberman's plan addresses that, he said. "It's an ethnic solution to an ethnic problem," Many said.
Historically, there have been examples of territorial and population exchanges, he said.
But Tagari, who worked on a recent publication by The Floersheimer Institute for Policy Studies on the issue of transferring the area of the Triangle, said that new international human rights legislation, to which Israel is also a signatory, prevented revoking citizenship in such cases.
"I don't see any scenario where the Supreme Court would uphold it," she said.
Citizenship is the basis for all other civil rights, Tagari said. International law and Israeli law treats it as a basic right. That's particularly true when the basis for such an action is discriminatory, she said.
"The whole motive for the program is to diminish the number of Arab citizens, which is very discriminatory," she said.
Nor, she said, should Israelis citizens have to declare that they are Zionists to maintain their rights. That's true, whether one is Jewish or Arab, she said.
It's not the role of the state to ensure that its citizens are emotionally attached to the state; it's the role of the state to ensure that people abide by the law, Tagari said.
Tagari's article also noted that Lieberman's plan sets a precedent of Israel relinquishing territory within the pre-1967 borders.
Fuchs said he too believes the plan in unfeasible. Lieberman, who broke off from the Likud in 1999 to form Israel Beiteinu, is not just looking to head a party, said Fuchs.
"He's aiming to be prime minister" so it's important that he have a plan of his own that looks like it could solve Israel's demographic problem as well as set its border, said Fuchs. "I believe that Lieberman himself doesn't believe in his own plan," said Fuchs.