Israeli-Arab city of Umm al-Fahm, along the Green Line. Photo: WikiCommons.
Israeli-Arabs and their representatives in the Knesset refuse to consider a territory swap backed by U.S. negotiators at the Israel-PA peace talks, which resumed on Thursday in Jerusalem, according to Israeli press reports.
The swap would see Israel cede sovereignty over 10 towns, home to 300,000 Israeli-Arabs, along the Green Line, in an area called the Triangle, to the Palestinian Authority in exchange for a similar amount of land developed by Jewish settlers.
Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, MK Dr. Ahmed Tibi, founder of the Arab Movement for Change Party, Ta’al, said, ”This is a bizarre proposal which relates to Arab citizens as chess pieces that can be moved and changed,” according to Israeli daily Ma’ariv on Thursday. “Once we feared for our nationhood and now we fear for our citizenship.”
A senior Israeli source involved in the peace talks told Ma’ariv that the Triangle proposal was being raised “in discussions between Israel and the United States over the issue of land swaps.” According to the source, the idea has become more widely discussed because of the U.S. effort to advance talks, Ma’ariv said.
“Many senior officials on the Israeli side agree with the exchange of territory and population, and the Americans know it’s a possible solution,” he said.
The Triangle, HaMeshulash, in Hebrew, or al-Muthallath, in Arabic, is split between the Central and Haifa Districts of Israel, in the eastern Plain of Sharon, in the Samarian foothills. Its geography, made it important for Israel militarily, and it was awarded to Israel officially in the 1949 Armistice Agreement as part of a swap, with Transjordan receiving Wadi Fukin, in the southern hills of Hebron.
Internally, the Triangle has developed economically under Israeli sovereignty, while it is split politically, with three towns surrounding the small city of Umm al-Fahm, around the lush Wadi Ara, in the north, being separate from the five surrounding towns around Taibe, in the south.
Israeli-Arab MK Dr. Afu Agbaria, from the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality Party, Hadash, a resident of Umm al-Fahm, told Ma’ariv, “Citizens in a democracy are not pawns or hostages in the hands of the government.”
While Agbaria is not known as a friend to Israel — in 2010, at the European Parliament, he called for Israeli leaders to be tried at the International Criminal Court, and accused Israel of attacking “its neighbors and its Arab citizens nonstop” during its 62 years of existence — local polls show that most Israeli-Arabs in the Triangle also still prefer being Israeli citizens to the alternative.
In 2000, when the Triangle proposal was first put forward by current Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, a survey conducted by Israeli-Arab weekly Kul al-Arab among 1,000 residents of Umm al-Fahm, found that 83 percent opposed transferring their city to Palestinian Authority rule.