From Moldova to Arara

We should not allow right-wing demagogues to destroy any chance of civil partnership between Jewish and Arab citizens.

Umm al-Fahm: Transfer to the Palestinian Authority? (photo credit: ESTEBAN ALTERMAN)
Umm al-Fahm: Transfer to the Palestinian Authority?
(photo credit: ESTEBAN ALTERMAN)
In renewing his proposal for an exchange of populations and territory with the Palestinians, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman seems blissfully unaware of how and why the Arab towns and villages in the “Triangle” between Taibe and Tira in the south and Umm al-Fahm and Arara in the north came to be in Israel in the first place.
At the end of the 1948 War of Independence the entire area was under Arab control and designated to become part of the West Bank, then under Jordanian rule. But at Israeli insistence, under the terms of the 1949 Armistice Agreements, the “Triangle” was allocated to Israel in return for territory near Beit She’an and in the southern Hebron hills. The rationale for the swap was strategic: Israel wanted to secure the road from the Sharon through Wadi Ara to the Jezreel Valley and the Upper Galilee. The border was therefore moved to the east.
Now, as if this strategic thinking is no longer valid, Liberman wants the border moved back to the west, almost as far as the old and new north-south roads and highways. That’s what would happen if he has his way, and his recently reaffirmed readiness to accept a peace deal based on land swaps if, and only if, it leaves the towns and villages of the “Triangle” in Palestine, gains sway.
Perhaps we should not be surprised that the Kishinev-born Liberman thinks in these terms. After all, it was this kind of callous politics that doomed Moldova, his erstwhile homeland, to chronic backwardness. Locked between Ukraine and Romania, Moldova declared its independence in January 1918. In March it was overrun by Romania; the secret protocols of the 1939 Ribbentrop-Molotov agreement transferred it to the Soviet Union; in July 1941 it was reoccupied by Romania, this time backed by the Nazis; then, at the end of the war, it was annexed by Moscow; and only with the disintegration of the Soviet Union did it regain its independence in 1991.
Throughout this saga, the people of Moldova were never asked what they thought as they were shunted from pillar to post like so many pieces of furniture. Hardhearted politicians in closed, faraway negotiating rooms imposed on them one sovereignty after another, without ever taking their wishes into account.
Now according to the Liberman model, it’s the Israeli Arabs living in the crowded area between Highway 6 and the 1967 Green Line who must play the Moldovans.
They would have to surrender the Israeli citizenship they are entitled to by birth and adopt Palestinian citizenship instead, without being asked what they prefer.
And what would happen if they decline? Would the Palestinian state then refuse to take the area up to Highway 6 with its residents? And what about Jewish Israelis who live there? And what would happen if Israel’s Arab citizens in the larger Galilee Arab cities, like Nazareth or Shfaram, ask to be included in Liberman’s scheme?
As with Moldova, what they think doesn’t matter at all. It is only to be expected that such a plan was hatched by a Machiavellian right-winger like Liberman, who cynically aims to shape the country’s political neighborhood by peddling the illusion of all-encompassing force free of moral considerations.
As someone who grew up in a country with a wretched history of political dictates by neighbors and great powers, Liberman is taking a leaf out of the oppressors’ book, playing the stronger power statesman serving narrow nationalistic goals, while ignoring the legitimate rights and wishes of the local residents.
The local Arab residents are in any case defined by him as citizens on probation, people who must constantly prove their loyalty, no lovers of Zion, potential enemies from within, who would be better outside “Israel our Home.”
As Israeli-Palestinian negotiations continue, American pressure on the parties is growing heavier by the day. Progress would almost certainly bring important changes in the complex relationship between Arabs and Jews in Israel itself. Indeed, once the Palestinian state is established, there will be new opportunities to rebuild fractured ties between the Israeli state and its minority groups, including those in the “Triangle.”
What Israel desperately needs is reinforcement of the civil partnership between its Jewish and Arab citizens. And we should not allow right-wing demagogues to destroy any chance of this happening with bizarre and divisive initiatives.
Ilan Baruch, a former ambassador to South Africa, is a peace activist and political advisor to the leader of the Meretz party.