Peace Plan Draws Strong Responses from Arab Citizens
Peace Plan Draws Strong Responses from Arab Citizens
On January 28, the Trump Administration unveiled a vision document for a “comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians” entitled, “Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People.”
The proposal has been widely anticipated, though little was previously known about its contents. Its publication has sparked significant criticism from Israel’s Arab society, both out of a general sentiment that the plan is unilateral and unfair to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and around a specific clause in the document referencing the possibility of transferring 10 Arab cities and towns in Israel to a future Palestinian state. The clause has drawn strong condemnations from Israel’s Arab society and numerous Jewish activists and politicians on the principle that citizenship should not be conditional nor transferable. The clause has also sparked discussion about its potential impact on Arab voter turnout in the March 2 national election, while the endorsement of the overall plan by Benny Gantz, head of the main opposition party Kahol Lavan, may affect Arab support for him and his party.
This post focuses on Arab society’s reaction primarily to this clause in the plan, and on the speculations related to the impact on elections.
Page 13 of the document states:
The 10 towns and cities are in the region known as “The Triangle” southeast of Haifa and have approximately 260,000 residents. View a map by Haaretz here.
A number of Israeli politicians have floated the controversial concept of such transfer of jurisdiction over both territory and its population in the past, most notably MK Avigdor Lieberman, chair of Yisrael Beiteinu, several times since 2004 to polarizing effect. The idea was denounced by rights groups, academic think tanks and Israeli leaders across the political spectrum, including, at the time, PM Benjamin Netanyahu, then-President Shimon Peres and then-Minister of Interior, Gideon Sa’ar on the principle that citizenship should not be conditional or stripped on the basis of ethnicity. Detailed analyses also aimed to show the impracticality of the transfer idea, which would mean that major roads and Jewish villages would also be transferred to Palestinian territory. At the same time, according to former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren, the concept also “struck a nerve” among many Israelis who although “repelled by his rhetoric…quietly shared many of his sentiments.” On the day the Trump administration plan was made public, Lieberman issued a statement “welcoming President Trump [for] adopting my 2004 plan.”
PUBLIC DISCOURSE AND LEADERSHIP REACTIONS
The legitimacy given to the concept of territorial and population transfer via its inclusion in the peace plan generated several waves of responses from Israel’s Arab society in the form of protests, and statements from Jewish and Arab shared society leaders and supporters, and from Jewish and Arab political leadership. Critics state that neither Israel nor the U.S. have the right to revoke the citizenship of Israeli citizens, that revoking citizenship by ethnicity sets a dangerous precedent and harms Israeli democracy, and that the proposal is driven by political motives such as reducing the number of Arab voters in Israel and serving PM Netanyahu’s attempts to escape his upcoming trial on corruption charges.
The High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel and the municipality of Baqa al-Gharbiyye organized a protest on
Saturday, February 1, which drew about 3,000 mostly Arab participants from northern Israel and some Jewish activists. Discourse centered not only on the specific population transfer clause but also on the entire plan, which some Arab citizens believe “calls for a complete surrender of the Palestinian national movement.”
Heated discourse among left-wing activists followed the demonstration, with some Jewish activists who came to protest against the transfer clause claiming the protest should have focused more on partnership between Jewish and Arab citizens within the state, and that the waving of many Palestinian flags countered the message of unconditional citizenship (Hebrew). Other Jewish and Arab critics of the transfer proposal contended that the protest was more about solidarity with the Palestinians’ plight and, moreover, that Arab citizens of Israel should not be made to choose between their Palestinian identity (symbolized by the Palestinian flags) and their Israeli citizenship. This discourse continues on social media among leading Jewish and Arab activists and civil society leaders.
The same evening, a second demonstration was organized in Tel Aviv by a host of organizations including Standing Together, Peace Now, the progressive political party Meretz-Labor and others, which drew several thousand participants. Jewish and Arab political leaders and activists spoke about the divisive impact of legitimizing transfer of citizenship. In a speech shared widely on social media, civil society leader and activist Maisam Jaljuli called on Jewish and Arab citizens to join forces against “the dangerous proposal of dispossession of citizenship that can only be defeated by standing together” and to ensure that “this home is everybody’s home.”
Parallel to demonstrations, political and civil society leaders, columnists and activists from within Arab society have been vocal in media and social media in opposing the concept of transfer.
Mayors of the 10 cities and towns named in the plan immediately condemned the proposal. Tayibe Mayor Sha’a Mansour Massarwa said, “We are citizens of the state of Israel. Not enemies.” Umm al Fahm Mayor Samir Mahamid said, “I am here and am demanding my rights as a citizen. This plan equates me to a settler who came to land that does not belong to me.” Mouder Younis, mayor of Ar’ara and head of the Arab Council of Mayors, said, “This is a very dangerous plan that paves the way for more dangerous schemes in the region. If you want to place Umm al Fahm under the Palestinian state, what about the lands surrounding Umm al Fahm? Why not place them, too, under the control of the Palestinian state?”
Members of the Joint List have also joined the voices condemning the plan. “All of us – Arab and Jewish – who believe in democracy and peace must decide to stand together and refuse to allow these despots to strip our brothers and sisters of their citizenship,” wrote Joint List Chair MK Ayman Odeh on Twitter. MK Yousef Jabareen, of the Joint List, a resident of Umm al Fahm, wrote in Haaretz, “Every Israeli citizen, Jewish or Arab, who is guided by the principles of democracy and equality, must fight alongside us. In Israel of 2020, the right thing to do is to stand in solidarity with the Arab community on behalf of democratic and human values.”
Writer Odeh Bisharat also called for Jewish opposition to the proposal. “But this will be a test for the good people among the Jews, and they are numerous: To stand up against such unconscionable plans, alongside their Arab brothers,” he wrote in Haaretz. Numerous other Arab columnists, bloggers and activists expressed similar sentiments on Facebook and in other media outlets (.e.g. Samah Salaime – Hebrew). In an opinion piece in Ha'aretz (Hebrew), Givat Haviva’s Mohammad Darawshe, a leading figure in Israel’s shared society field, wrote that “What also saddened me this week was the silence and implied consent of most Israeli Jews.” Darawshe said that on another occasion, he “will write about hundreds of Arab doctors from Kafr Qara, and hundreds of pharmacists from Umm al-Fahm, and hundreds of nurses from Taibeh and Tira, and hundreds of dentists at the health funds, and merchants and drivers of buses and taxis, and high-tech workers from the Triangle area.”
The controversy also led to a stream of dark humor on Arab social media ripe with jokes about how Jewish Israelis will no longer be able to come and shop or eat in the relevant Arab towns without going through a border crossing, A poster showing “Israeli flag after the ‘Triangle’ has been removed” (Hebrew) quickly became popular on social media.
In addition, many Jewish Israelis voiced anger about the plan and their solidarity with Arab citizens, changing their Facebook picture to a message stating, “To all the Arab residents of the Triangle, from Umm al Fahm through Baqa al-Gharbiyye to Kfar Qasem: You are neighbors, friends, brothers. We will not allow them to divide us.”
Civil Society Reactions
Numerous civil society organizations and leaders working on advancing Arab citizens and Jewish-Arab relations in Israel issued statements regarding the clause in the plan. The Abraham Initiatives issued a statement under the title ‘Citizens Not Subjects”; Sikkuy posted that “Stripping some 300,000 residents of their citizenship is another step in the process of delegitimizing Arab citizens,” and using them as “tools for political spin” (Hebrew). Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, asserted that the proposal is “blatantly illegal under international law”; Standing Together issued numerous statements against the plan, also organizing solidarity events in Kfar Qasem and elsewhere; the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) issued a detailed statement against various elements in the plan, including stating that “the Israeli government surely has no right to revoke the citizenship and rights of the non-Jewish citizens of the state, and move them to live in another country” (Hebrew).
IN RELATION TO ELECTIONS
There is some speculation about the impact of the plan on coming elections, and how it may affect Arab voter turnout and behavior in particular. STATNET founder and CEO stated that his polling found that intention to vote on March 2 rose by four percentage points among residents of the Triangle communities as a result of the transfer proposal. There are other suggestions that the Arab voting rate would rise in response, that the plan may factor into voter turnout efforts in Arab society, and that it reduces the appeal of the main opposition party, Kahol Lavan, for Arab voters if its leaders continue to express support for the plan.
MK Jabareen said that the Joint List would not endorse Benny Gantz for Prime Minister since Gantz said he supports the Trump plan and intends to put it to a vote in the Knesset (Hebrew). Following the September elections, the Joint List recommended Gantz to President Reuven Rivlin, the only instance other than the 1992 recommendation of Yitzhak Rabin that the Arab-led parties have formally recommended a candidate for prime minister.
Some Jewish MKs from Kahol Lavan and Meretz-Labor joined in condemning the transfer proposal. MK Ofer Shelah of Kahol Lavan named both Jewish and Arab towns in a statement: “One thing must be ruled out: Israeli citizens and communities will not be transferred to the Palestinian state. Neither Kfar Saba nor Tira, neither Kochav Yair nor Tayibe. The very idea is obscene.” MK Ram Ben Barak of Kahol Lavan posted on Facebook: “In the state of Israel, the nation state of the Jewish people, there are also Muslim, Druze, Christians, Circassians and others - all full citizens of Israel. The discourse about the transfer of territories is despicable and will never happen” (Hebrew). On Facebook, Meretz stated: Arabs in Israel are equal citizens. Not near, not about, equal. That is the truth. On the right maybe it's still hard to digest it, but in Israel living with us here are Arab citizens with equal rights (Hebrew).
Despite reports that the transfer proposal was Netanyahu’s idea, Netanyahu told journalist Amit Segal on Sunday, February 2 that he no longer supports it. Odeh stated on Facebook that the Prime Minister had changed his position because “When it was found that the ‘Deal of the Century’ involved the removal of citizenship and rights from the residents of the Triangle, his polling revealed that the voting rate would rise among Arab citizens (Arabic).