Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (Likud Beiteinu) has for some time now been floating the idea of land swaps as part of a final peace agreement with the Palestinians. According to his proposal, areas with high Arab populations that were within Israel prior to 1967 and are contiguous with Arab regions in Judea and Samaria will become part of a new Palestinian state. In exchange, Jewish settlement blocs within Judea and Samaria, currently claimed by the Palestinians, will be formally annexed to Israel.
The Arab-Israelis living within the so-called “Arab triangle” in Israel’s central and Galilee region, however, disapprove of the proposal. As Israeli citizens, they want to remain a part of Israel. Some have even expressed a willingness to move to make that happen.
According to Lieberman, “They define themselves as Palestinians, so why wouldn’t they join their Palestinian brothers?”
However, the population in question sees things differently.
“From an historical perspective, I’m living on Palestinian land that was passed down from father to son way before the State of Israel was established, and on the other hand I have an Israeli identification card,” Revia Mahajna, an attorney from the village Musmus in the Wadi Ara region told Ynetnews. “I’m a Palestinian living in the State of Israel just like there are Palestinians living in Canada or Germany.”
Another Musmus resident, Adal Mahajna, an insurance agent, said, “Our life is in Israel, and a transfer like this will cut us off from our family and our friends, Arabs and Jews.”
Alaa Atmanah from Kafr Kara, and Jabar Jabrin from Umm al-Fahm, both lawyers, warned about the dangers of Lieberman’s plan. “It’s a racist proposal,” Atmanah said. “Most of the population won’t agree to give up their Israeli citizenship.
“I don’t know what’s behind the proposal, or what Israel’s interests are in the plan, but it won’t bring any benefit – only internal and external harm,” he said. He added that most local residents would feel forced to move to cities such as Hadera, Afula or Pardes Hanna to remain in Israel should the proposal be accepted.
Jabrin said, “It will cause a third nakba, and we’ll be forced to fight the proposal in every way that we can. My brother lives in Nazareth, and we’ll end up being separated.”
Jabrin, who served as a traffic cop while he was a student, and whose father was a chief superintendent of police, supports a national service program for Arab Israelis.
“I expect to receive the right to be equal in all that is related to privileges and responsibilities.”
In addition to family ties, it seems economic considerations play heavily into making Israel attractive to its Arab citizens. Several polls and interviews conducted in recent years suggest that given the choice, most Palestinian Arab Israelis would prefer to remain in Israel, with some willing to move house if their homes became part of a new Palestinian state. A 2011 poll of over 1,000 East Jerusalem Arabs revealed that 54% would prefer to stay in Israel and only 25% would actively move to a new Palestinian state. Even if their neighborhoods were rezoned to such a state, 40% said they would try to move back to Israel. When asked why, they identified access to better jobs, smaller classes for their children, and better healthcare as motivating factors.
Said Abu Shakra, curator of the Umm al-Fahm Art Gallery, told themedialine.org in 2012 that while Arab Israelis would like to see an independent Palestinian state established, most would not want to actually move there. Life is good for them in Israel. Abu Shakra says he sees himself as a bridge between Israel and the Palestinian people and wants both to see him as an asset and not an enemy.