'Population swap as part of peace'

Ayalon: Demand to freeze settlements like demanding PA give up right of return.

Danny Ayalon (photo credit: AP)
Danny Ayalon
(photo credit: AP)
Israel and a future Palestinian state should agree to land swaps that would make settlement blocs part of Israel proper and certain Arab towns now in Israel part of a future Palestinian state, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said in an interview published on Saturday.
Ayalon also said that the Palestinian demand to stop settlement construction as a precondition to negotiations was unrealistic, and would be like Israel demanding that the PA, as a precondition to talks, give up its demand for a “right of return” for Palestinian refugees.
In an interview with the London-based pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Alawsat, Ayalon said Israeli Arabs “would not lose anything” by joining the Palestinian state as part of a land swap.
“If Israeli Arabs say that they are proud Palestinians, why should they not be proud in the Palestinian state?” the Israel Beiteinu minister asked. This population could contribute to building the Palestinian state due to its high socioeconomic status, he said.
The idea, Ayalon said, was that the majority of Jews would live in Israel, and the majority of Palestinians would live in a future Palestinian state, while Arab and Jewish minorities could exist in both.
Ayalon said that settlements would not be a problem if a peace agreement was reached that recognized the right of both states to exist in security and cooperation.
“I think the claim that the settlements are an obstacle to peace is exaggerated,” he said. “We have proven in the past that settlements do not affect the end results, and examples of this are the evacuation of Sinai and dismantling of the Yamit settlement [in 1982] carried out by Ariel Sharon, as well as the disengagement from the Gaza Strip and the dismantling of the settlements there in 2005 by the Likud government led by Sharon,” he said.
On other issues, Ayalon – at an event in Givatayim on Saturday – praised the recent NATO offensive in Afghanistan, saying that this type of “determination” against terrorism in Afghanistan was also a signal of the West’s determination to act against the Iranian threat.
Teheran, Ayalon said, was behind the recent bellicose comments coming from Syria that were designed to divert the world’s attention from Iran’s nuclear program. “I hope that Syria will not be enticed by Iranian incitement to war,” he said.
Ayalon, who was heckled last week while trying to give a speech atOxford University, also related to the campaign against Israelispeakers on campuses abroad, saying that Israel must see this as a“diplomatic and public diplomacy battle” for which it has to prepare.
“On the one had we have to deter those who want to cause a disturbance,by registering complaints with the police, and on the other hand wehave to prepare the Jewish students so they can respond appropriatelyto these incidents,” he said.