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The Land Exchange Project

Zionist political thought continues to propose projects based on the eradication of the Palestinians as a people or, at the very least, their marginalisation inside the state of Israel. So-called ‘population transfer’ is a fundamental and unequivocally non-negotiable principle of political Zionism. It has been used to devastating effect for more than sixty years to carry out what historians have called the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Palestinians from their land.

With increasing discussion about ‘final status’ issues such as Israel-Palestine borders; Palestinian refugees; the city of Jerusalem; and Israeli settlements, the Zionists establishment has now added a new dimension to its concept of ‘transfer’. This has come to be known as ‘geographical transfer’ and is intended to destroy Palestine as a viable homeland while still referring to it as a land. It is based upon the concept of an exchange of land between Israel and the Palestinian Authority within the context of any final status discussions, so as to allow illegal Israeli settlements to officially end up as part of the Zionist state.

 


During the fourth Herzliya Conference in 2003, Israel’s Foreign Minister and leader of the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel our home) Party, Avigdor Lieberman, attempted to justify the idea of abandoning the Arab towns in the Triangle (a group of Israeli Arab/Palestinian towns adjacent to the Armistice Line of 1948) to an independent Palestinian state. Lieberman declared that he was not presenting a peace plan but a security plan, and he is not looking for a barrier to the establishment of a Palestinian state, but for a partner to “solve” the issue of Israeli Arabs. According to the Foreign Minister, in order for Israel to maintain its identity as a “Jewish state”, the notion of a “bi-national state” must be dropped. The concept of one state for all citizens has become increasingly prominent following the ‘death of two-state solution’; according to Lieberman, the exchange of land is one of the means to achieving this “solution”. Lieberman’s 2003 Herzliya proposal was basically a rehash of the plan adopted at the conference two years earlier.

 

At the May 2011 conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the most prominent pro-Israel lobby group in the United States, US President Barack Obama repeated his call for a Palestinian state within the June 1967 borders, with an exchange of land to take into account the “new demographic facts on the ground”; that is, the currently illegal Israeli settlements across the occupied West Bank.

The idea of land exchange originated in the Camp David talks in July 2000 between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. The Israeli delegation proposed to swap one of two areas; Umm al-Fahm and part of its wider district, or the Halotsa area adjacent to the Gaza Strip, in exchange for the major settlements in the West Bank. The idea of including Halotsa in the proposal was to try to entice the Palestinian negotiators to opt for Umm al-Fahm as Halotsa is a barren area with no water; reports in 2008 claimed that it is where toxic waste from Israel’s Dimona nuclear reactor is burned.

The Palestinians at Camp David agreed on the concept of land exchange and asked for land adjacent to the West Bank. The then Israeli Foreign Minister, Shlomo Ben-Ami, told Haaretz on 14 September 2001 that at Camp David, he had the chance to see a Palestinian map containing a swap of less than 2.8% of the area of the West Bank in return for land at a ratio of 1 to 1.5%. The US team present at Camp David expressed admiration for the land exchange idea and introduced America’s vision of what it might entail: the return to the Palestinian Authority of 96 to 97 percent of the West Bank plus 1% of 1948-occupied territory (i.e. Israel) or 94% of the West Bank plus 3%.

In a 2005 article, Uzi Arad, a former political adviser to Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, suggested a “long-term plan” to rid Israel of the Arab towns and cities of Umm al-Fahm, Wadi Ara (Nahal Iron), Al-Tayiba, Al-Tira, Kafr Qasim and other places adjacent to the Green Line (the Armistice line), in exchange for Jewish settlements in the West Bank, including Ariel, Gush Etzion and Ma’ale Adumim.

Arad proposed to pay compensation to the Arab citizens affected by the “transfer”; they would also retain all the social rights that were accumulated for them in Israel.

Israel’s proposals for the exchange of land were presented again at the Annapolis Conference in November 2007 attended by the then US President, George W. Bush. The most notable plans were:

1. In July 2007, Israeli President Shimon Peres proposed that an independent Palestinian state be established along the 1967 borders plus and minus land exchanged totalling 5% of the West Bank and Jerusalem. Israel would keep the settlements and independent Palestine would be compensated by land of the same value, including some land from Israel already inhabited by Palestinians.

2. According to Haim Ramon, the Israeli deputy prime minister in September 2007, “Israel has decided on its borders in the West Bank from the moment that the separation wall was established.” Thus, in his view, between 3 and 8 percent of the West Bank will be annexed by Israel. The Palestinians will be compensated with similar areas inside the Green Line (i.e. inside Israel).
Both plans kill two birds with one stone, merging the settlement blocs in the West Bank and ridding Israel of tens of thousands of its Palestinian citizens.

3. The eight points that were included in the “Declaration of Principles” between Israel and the Palestinian Authority were to be the basis of the agreement in the autumn conference. The second point stated: “an unarmed Palestinian state to be established, its borders to be based on the maps of 1967. Such borders are to be strictly agreed upon according to security needs, demographic developments and humanitarian supplies. This will thus open the door to an exchange of land at the ratio of 1:1 while keeping the settlement blocs in Israel’s hands.”

4. One of the main points discussed at the Herzliya Conference in 2008 was the issue of land exchange in the region to “protect” Israel as a “Jewish State”. A paper presented by academics, Uzi Arad and Gideon Biger, called for Israel to keep the large settlement blocs in the West Bank and Jordan Valley in return for giving the Palestinians lands in current Israel, for example those with a large Palestinian population such as Umm Al Fahm.

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