Two weeks ago, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman proposed a plan in which Israel and the Palestinian Authority would swap land as a condition for the continuation of talks with the Palestinians.
Liberman made this proposal for the first time in may 2004. The idea was for Israel to annex settlement blocs where Jewish population centers existed and for a Palestinian state to incorporate an area called The Triangle, in which 300,000 Israeli Arabs live. In such a swap, the Arabs living in this area would lose their Israeli citizenship unless they moved to land controlled by Israel and swore allegiance to the Jewish state.
Liberman said that this is a nonnegotiable prerequisite for sitting down for negotiations with the Palestinians.
He is not the first person to suggest a land swap as a solution to political conflict. Similar proposals have come up repeatedly throughout history.
In 1750, Spain and Portugal signed the Treaty of Madrid according to which the Portuguese agreed to hand over Colónia do Sacramento, a city on the banks of the Río de la Plata in current day Uruguay, which sits just across the bay from Buenos Aires.
The Middle East has experienced its share of land transfers.
In the early 20th century, the British Mandate controlled Palestine and the French Mandate ruled Syria and Lebanon, until all three countries achieved independence.
There were also land swaps between Israel and Jordan following the War of Independence and between Jordan and Saudi Arabia in 1965, in which Jordan ceded land in exchange for a strip of beach near Aqaba.
Land swaps are usually based on irredentism, or when one country annexes an area of a neighboring county on the basis of ethnic origin or religious affiliation. This is usually carried out with the full cooperation of the local populations. This is not the case, however, here in Israel.
Theoretically, such a land swap could help solve this sensitive demographic issue, since Israel is concerned that Arabs’ loyalty toward Israel is questionable and is a threat to the Jewish character of the state. This proposal, however, has been the source of tremendous controversy in the past and Arab and Jewish leftist leaders are totally opposed to it.
These groups (rightly) argued that such a move is undemocratic and racist, since its main purpose is the delegitimization of Israeli Arabs. There have been studies carried out that prove that the majority of Israeli Arabs are not interested in moving to the West Bank or Gaza even if a Palestinian state were to be established in these areas. But we don’t need a study to know this.
During negotiations with Palestinians in which I participated during the second intifada in 2001, Israeli politicians raised this idea several times, and it was said partly as an ongoing joke – primarily by Muhammad Dahlan and Jibril Rajoub. The Palestinian leaders we spoke with had made it clear that they were not interested in carrying out a land swap for this area that has a dense population of Israeli Arabs in return for Judea, Samaria and Gaza.
The Arabs living in these areas have repeatedly made it clear that they have no interest in taking on Palestinian citizenship if they have to give up their Israeli one.
In 2006, Shaul Arieli, Dubi Schwartz and Hadas Tagri from the Floersheimer Institute for Policy Studies carried out a research study that investigated the option of moving 148,000 Israeli Arabs (about 10 percent of the Israeli Arab population) to a future Palestinian state.
Israeli jurists determined that stripping these individuals of their Israeli citizenship was illegal according to both Israeli and international law.
Israel has the right to determine that a certain geographical area is no longer part of the State of Israel, but it cannot rescind the citizenship of the people residing there. So we can see that the “Liberman Plan” is not feasible for these two reasons.
It is safe to assume that Liberman is well aware of this, and that most likely he is looking for a diplomatic way to stall negotiations, although they seem to be stuck anyway for other reasons.
Liberman’s proposal is nothing more than the “transfer” of a group based on racist ideology. But he probably knows this, too. Or does he?
The writer is a former brigadier- general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
Translated by Hannah Hochner.