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March 20, 2017 6:45 am

Experts Say Lieberman’s Population Swaps Could Harm Israel

avatar by Ariel Ben Solomon / JNS.org

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Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Lieberman.

Israeli politician Avigdor Lieberman. Photo: Israeli government.

JNS.org – After Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman recently reiterated his plan for population swaps in any future peace deal with the Palestinians, some Mideast experts and Israeli politicians are noting that the concept is unrealistic, and could undermine Israel’s security.

Last week, Lieberman said that the “only way to a sustainable agreement is through land and population swaps as part of a larger regional peace deal. … It cannot be that a hegemonic Palestinian state will be established, without a single Jew — 100 percent Palestinian, and [that] Israel will be a bi-national state with 22 percent Palestinians.”

Yet some experts fear that the defense minister’s plan would be difficult to implement, and would narrow Israel’s borders. Further, by surrendering Israeli-Arab villages near the so-called Green Line, Israel would lose some of its ability to monitor that area and deploy security forces there.

“Legally, [Lieberman’s] option might be realized only as part of an agreement between both sides, but it is not reasonable to do such a thing without the will of the people themselves,” said Kobi Michael, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv, and a senior lecturer at Ariel University of Samaria.

“But leaving aside the legal and moral aspects, the idea could be implemented only in very specific areas,” Michael told JNS.org, referring to the fact that not all Israeli Arabs live within the Arab-majority villages straddling the Green Line. The scholar described Lieberman’s plan as “dangerous, irresponsible and a provocation.”

Michael acknowledged, however, that Israeli Arabs in the northern Galilee and southern Negev regions, as well as in mixed Jewish-Arab cities like Jaffa, Haifa and Acre, would not be touched by Lieberman’s swaps.

“Eventually, the idea could be implemented with regard to less than one-third of the Arab population of Israel,” he said.

The political reality

On a political level, Lieberman’s plan would be extremely unlikely to pass, because many right-wing Members of Knesset (MKs) oppose any withdrawal from Israeli territory or a two-state solution. In particular, many Likud Party MKs would oppose such a move, as would Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett — whose party has been pushing for the opposite approach (i.e. annexing territory).

“The ongoing conflict between Jews and Arabs is not the result of a territorial dispute, but a dispute between identities,” Moshe Feiglin, a former Likud MK, told JNS.org.

Lieberman’s land swaps not only fail to solve the peace problem, but they actually magnify the conflict by continuing to ignore the real issue, said Feiglin, who left the Likud Party to start a new political movement called “Zehut” — translated from Hebrew as “identity.”

“Peace can come only when Jews stop trying to flee their identity and recognize that the land of Israel is its country. This is our land,” he said.

A serious plan or a debate point?

Daniel Pipes, the president of the Middle East Forum think tank, told JNS.org that Lieberman’s proposal “is cleverly flipping the Palestinians’ rhetoric on themselves: ‘A judenrein (free of Jews) Gaza and West Bank, you say?’ Well, [Lieberman] replies, ‘Israel will then be without Muslims.’”

Asked if the plan was realistic, Pipes said, “I see this as scoring a debate point more than forwarding a serious policy proposal, [because] Israelis and their supporters worldwide will not go in this direction. But it is an effective debate point that shows an endemic Palestinian racism that, regrettably, otherwise goes [unreported].”

INSS fellow Michael, meanwhile, is more alarmed than impressed with Lieberman’s approach.

“Lieberman knows well that this [plan] is only a slogan he uses in order to keep his image among the Israeli political right,” Michael said. “He is a cynical politician who has no problem changing positions according to the political circumstances.”

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