Several Arab leaders and heads of local authorities in Palestine have expressed their resentment and anger at the idea of swapping the area known as “The Triangle” and Wadi Ara in exchange for legitimising the settlement blocs in the West Bank, such as Ariel, Gush Etzion and Maale Adumim. They consider the proposal to be foolish, not least because it supports the proposal of Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman made several years ago on his electoral platform. He has now made it one of his conditions to support the peace project proposed by Kerry, saying, “It is just moving the border along Highway 6”.
Critics believe that it has dark echoes of the ethnic cleansing that took place in 1948 when Israel was created in Palestine. Officials at the Umm Al-Fahm Municipality believe that this proposal is, indeed, a new Nakba, or catastrophe, and have held an emergency meeting to discuss a number of issues, including the possibility of being annexed to the West Bank. “We, as Palestinians, and the indigenous residents who inherited the land from our parents, grandparents and ancestors, state that no one, regardless of who they may be, has the right to negotiate on our behalf or in our name,” a statement from the council proclaimed. “We are not a commodity to be traded or a pawn used for negotiations. We alone decide our fate.”
The local leaders refuse to accept that they, the indigenous population of the land, are equated to the masses of settlers who have colonised Palestinian land in the West Bank. “Based on this point of view, we should not be swapped with them, and we reject the authorities’ view of us as a temporary demographic bomb that must be eliminated.”
Calling on the Palestinian negotiators to focus on the most important and prominent issues in the negotiations, the Umm Al-Fahm officials stressed the restoration of the Arab and Islamic character of Jerusalem and the return of the refugees to the homes and villages from which they were expelled forcibly and unjustly. “Using these basic and non-negotiable principles, we declare our absolute rejection of any plan that aims to compromise or displace us. This would be a new Nakba against our people who have exercised extreme patience over many years.”
The idea that Palestinians could be shuffled around like chess pieces was also rejected by the head of the Kafr Qara local council, lawyer Hassan Athamna. He called for the land and people swap proposal to be treated with contempt, pointing out that the Palestinian Arab minority in “1948-occupied Palestine” was and still is the symbol of the Palestinian cause and presence. “We Palestinians,” he pointed out, “have sacrificed all that is valuable and precious in order to preserve and stay on the land of our forefathers, despite all of the suffering, unjust policies, racism, persecution and lack of recognition of the rights of the Arab minority in our own land.” No one, he added, is entitled to trade the right of the Arab minority to remain in their land, he insisted.
Athamna urged the Prime Minister and his government ministers to deny such absurd proposals, and to prove their sincerity by developing and improving the infrastructure and vital projects in Wadi Ara in order to assure everyone that Israeli Arab citizens are not objects on the negotiating tables.
Rejecting the proposal out of hand, Tala’at ‘Ara Council head Mustafa Aghbarieh said that it is outrageous that Israel wants to “eliminate” its own Palestinian citizens: “The government regards us as a demographic time-bomb,” he added, “which is so racist.” Confirming the thoughts of others that Israel wants as much land as possible with as few Palestinians on it as possible, Aghbarieh stated his belief that the proposal is simply a means to make it easier for Israel to declare itself as a “Jewish state”.
One council official pointed out that the land of Palestine has the status of a religious endowment. “As such, it cannot be negotiated away or compromised,” said the head of Baqa al-Gharbiyye’s council, Samih Abu-Mouch. He added that their land was involved in a forced and thus illegal marriage in 1948, when Israel seized thousands of acres of land from The Triangle. “If such land was a dowry for the unwanted marriage, carrying the analogy forward, if they want a divorce then they must return the seized land, and then we will be ready to be part of the Palestinian state,” he said.
Such views were endorsed and repeated by numerous other council heads and officials from the affected region. Many noted that Israel’s Judaisation policies affect other areas of the country as well, including Jerusalem and the Negev Desert. All called for a unified stance on the issue against a government in Tel Aviv “which clearly wants to abandon” its own citizens.