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memri
May 1, 2002 No.
374

Israeli-Arabs Object to Ideas of Israeli-Palestinian Territorial Exchange

The essence of the Israeli-Palestinian territorial exchange concept is to trade territories of large Jewish settlements east of Israel's "Green Line" for territories of the large Arab population inside Israel.

This idea is being discussed in the peace camp and Labor Party circles due to two reasons:

  1. The radicalization of Israeli-Arabs and their leadership's identification with the P.L.O.
  2. The attempts to find a political solution to the settlements while keeping them under Israeli sovereignty in a future Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

This idea was first raised in 1994 in a study by Joseph Alpher[1] and later discussed by Labor parliamentarian Dr. Yossi Beilin in 1996. On the academic level, Prof. Arnon Sofer, a University of Haifa geographer, presented it last year, and it was discussed by the Jerusalem demographer, Prof. Sergio de la Pergola. Recently, Minister of the Labor Party Dr. Efrayim Sneh raised the concept again.

According to a field report in Ha'aretz, the idea of Israeli-Palestinian territorial exchange prompts a fierce rejection by Israeli-Arabs, and it sparks both anger and offense among them. The following are excerpts from the report:[2]

Reactions of Israeli-Arabs
"…Upon hearing a question about the possibility that in the future they [Israeli-Arabs] would find themselves on the east side of the border between Israel and Palestine, they laughed out loud." "A young man from Musmus, who asked that his name not be revealed, said: '…I'll never move to the state of Palestine. After all, my job is in Israel; my friends are all Jews; I was born an Israeli and grew up as an Israeli, and no one can come and tell me: Live in a different place.'"Ha'aretz reporter Ori Nir: "If an agreement is somehow reached between the two states to adjust the border and move Musmus to the Palestinian state, the young villager says he will relocate to Israel. 'Fortunately,' the young Israeli-Arab said 'I can choose. I have Jewish girlfriends in Tel Aviv, Acre and Ashkelon. I can decide which one I want to move in with…'""Ahmad Sa'id added: 'The Jews make their plans and don't even bother to ask those who are affected by their plans.'""Another Israeli-Arab said: 'We aren't cats that you can just shoo away. The Jews don't want us - and neither do the Palestinians. So we get it from both sides. The Jews see us as Palestinians and the Palestinians see us as almost-Jews. They call us 'the fat-cat Arabs.' We know that they won't want us in their state.'"

Surveys Amongst the Israeli-Arab Population
Again, Ha'aretz reporter Ori Nir: "Public opinion surveys of the Arab sector indicate that there is a large Arab majority opposed to the idea. A survey of a broad sampling released by Prof. Sami Smooha and Dr. Assad Ghanem a year ago shows that only 30 percent or so of the respondents support annexing Arab settlements in the Triangle and Wadi 'Ara to the state of Palestine. One-quarter of the residents of the Triangle supported such a move. In the cities of Taybeh and Umm al-Fahm, approximately a third of the respondents were in favor of it. In a survey conducted by Prof. Efraim Ya'ar of Tel Aviv University's Steinmetz Center for Peace Studies in October 2000, 23 percent supported the idea. A survey recently released by the Arab-Israeli weekly, Panorama, which is published in Taybeh, noted only 9 percent of a cross-section of Umm al-Fahm residents supported the idea…"

Israeli-Arab Political Figures
"The head of the Labor party's Israeli-Arab section, Ghaleb Majadla says: '…[T]here are some who'd like to make cynical use of our Palestinian identity and create a conflict between it and our Israeli citizenship. In my opinion, that's a racist use. No one will prevent us from identifying with our people and their suffering and fighting on its behalf in legitimate ways. To the same extent, no one will take away our Israeli citizenship, which is citizenship that we are entitled to and was not granted to us as a favor.'"

Ha'aretz reporter Ori Nir: "In Umm al-Fahm, there are also some people organizing a counter-offensive against the idea of transferring Israeli-Arabs to the Palestinian state. Qassem Ziyad, a former journalist for the now defunct Israeli Socialist Party 'Mapam,' and a veteran teacher of Arabic who taught the language to thousands of Jewish students in the kibbutzim movement's educational institutions, was so offended by all this talk that he decided to rally regional leaders against the initiative. He said he was spurred to action when he heard that some Labor party leaders also support the idea."

"Qassem Ziyad: 'The Labor movement, which we have considered an ally for over 50 years and which saw us as something that could be milked for votes, has to be careful not to neutralize us. The Labor movement must prove to us that there is a difference between it and proponents of the Greater Land of Israel who favor transfer.'"

"…Ziyad cited one by one the arguments he intends to develop in a working paper he plans to circulate among Arab leaders in the Wadi 'Ara and Triangle regions in order to clarify their position, which rejects the concept of their transfer to the Palestinian state.'I say to Israeli-Arabs: make your voices heard, and I'm convinced that among you there will be an absolute majority against these harmful ideas.'"

"Ziyad: 'We aren't goods or commodities. We are people with dreams and desires and we are sons of this land. We are sons of this state. For 54 years we were expected to be part of the social fabric of the state and at the same time we were ostracized and prevented from living a good life together. I don't know of a more positive model for good and loyal behavior than that of the Arabs in this country, especially in view of the difficult circumstances of their brethren in the territories.'"

"In practice, there have been several generations formed of Arabs with an Israeli social and civilian identity. We are part of the social fabric of the country and that's a fact. We serve it in the most positive sense of the word. So don't tell us to go to hell."

"There are still other reasons: The Palestinian state will have a hard time absorbing in its territory hundreds of thousands of new citizens [Israeli-Arab] who had gotten used to a high degree of individual freedom and democracy that still does not prevail in the territories. 'We would only make it harder for the Palestinian state, which will still be in its infancy, and we'll become the black sheep of this state…'"


[1] "Settlements and Borders," Final Status Issues: Israel-Palestinians, Study No. 3, Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University.

[2] Ha'aretz, April 26, 2002.