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Dr. Dan Schueftan: 'Roadmap Process Should Deal With Population Mix Within Future Israeli-Palestinian Borders'

'Exchanges Of Land Inhabited By Israeli Arabs To Palestinian State Is A Solution'

Dr. Dan Schueftan, a Middle East expert at Haifa University, contends peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians should also deal with land exchanges. In order to avert, future tension and conflict between Jews and Arabs within Israel, and between the Jewish state and 'Palestine' one solution could be the exchange of Israel's 'little triangle' which is populated by Israeli Arabs to the new Palestinian state. Dr. Schueftan, who is now completing a book on Israeli Arabs, discusses this issue that is also being considered by some left-wingers in Israel.

If and when Israel and the Palestinians start negotiating the Roadmap peace proposal, the ultimate goal would be the demarcation of the permanent borders between Israel and the new Palestinian state in the region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. But should this process deal only with the final division of territory or should it also take into account the population mix within the borders, in order to prevent future tension and conflict?

David Essing: Dr. Dan Schueftan, a Middle East expert at Haifa University, is about to publish a book on Israeli Arabs. We turn to him for a discussion of this very delicate and sensitive problem. Dr Schueftan, should the Roadmap also deal with the population mix between future borders?

Future Borders?

Dr. Dan Schueftan: The Roadmap is a mechanism designed to regenerate negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. We have a very serious problem in even starting it because a pre-condition to real serious negotiations is that the Palestinians dismantle terrorist organizations. But not only are they not doing it, they say they are not even about to do it; they demand immediately to jump to final status negotiations. So lets distinguish between your question, a very important one, and the Roadmap as a mechanism but say the following: any discussion of future relations between Israelis and Palestinians must not only take into account, but focus on the demographic issues. Namely, the only thing that can be stable in any way will be a settlement where there is a line on the one side where you have a Jewish state and on the other side an Arab state. The reason that Israel is dismantling settlements in the Gaza Strip is because Israelis realize that the future line will be more or less the line that the Gaza Strip had before and because it will be Arab on the other side, Israel is removing its settlements. This will not happen with Arab settlements inside the pre 1967 Israel, because what you have there are Israeli citizens. However, when both sides come to determine the border, between the Palestinian state and the Jewish state, this will have to be a very serious consideration if not the most important one. Even if Israel unilaterally determines a line and builds a fence on this line the most important determinant is the demography; namely, where do you have Jews and where do you have Arabs, where do you have Israeli citizens and where do you have Arabs who are not Israeli citizens. One last point here that indicates that its not only Israel and the Arabs who consider this demographic issue to be very important is that the new American position which accepts the idea that when the future borders are delineated, the major settlement blocks populated by Jews on the other side of the 1967 green line, will be incorporated into Israel. So, everybody today understands and certainly the Israelis want the line of the state of Israel to include as many Jews as possible and as few Arabs, who are not citizens of Israel, as possible. In addition, there is a very interesting idea that many people in Israel support, including the left and the right of the Israeli political spectrum, and this is taking a portion of the pre 1967 Israel that is heavily populated by Arabs, the so-called 'little triangle', and transferring this portion of pre 1967 Israel to the future Palestinian state. This is not a transfer of population, this is a delineation of a line, which again seeks to have inside the Jewish state, fewer Arabs even if Israel looses a major portion of the territory that it had before 1967. And everything we have discussed do far, is determined by this demographic consideration that you’ve mentioned.

David Essing: Well, it was once mooted that perhaps Israeli Arabs could become the 'bridge' between the Jewish state and the Arab world. This really hasn't panned out, has it?

Dr. Dan Schueftan: No, and we have something that is much worse than that. Not only have they not proven to be a positive element in the relations between Israel and the Arab world, the mainstream among the Arabs has adopted positions that are so negative vis-?-vis the Jewish state and which t undermine the very existence of the Jewish nation state, that they became a problem in themselves. The Palestinians inside Israel, the Israeli citizens who are Arabs unfortunately have adopted the Palestinian ethos. In other words instead of saying OK, we live in a Jewish state, the area between the Mediterranean sea and the Jordan river is divided into two states, we happen to live inside the Jewish part of it, and therefore we accept that this is a Jewish state, rather than that, almost all of their leaders negate the very legitimacy of the Jewish state. They say openly that they seek to change it, not only constitutionally but also demographically because you have a majority of them supporting the so-called 'right of return’, which will destroy the Jewish state and establish on the ruins of the Jewish state another Arab state. So what the mainstream of the Israeli Arabs want today is that the area between the Mediterranean and the Jordan river will be divided between two states, one that will be exclusively Arab and the other one that will not be Jewish. This is something the Jewish majority in Israel very adamantly reject and therefore the more Israeli Jews are aware of the extremely negative positions of Israeli Arabs, the more Israeli Jews consider Israeli Arabs as a threat and a problem rather than what you mentioned before - a bridge between the Jews and the Jewish state and Arabs in the Arab state.

David Essing: But on the other hand, when this idea was first suggested, Arab Knesset Members for example Dr Ahmed Tibi, who I believe lives in the little triangle, and others were vehemently opposed. They condemned it as being undemocratic, and when asked: 'Why wouldn't you want to be part of the new Palestine and build the new Palestine, within the Palestinian borders of course, not inside Israel?' they totally rejected this idea.

Dr. Dan Schueftan: Yes, this is true because their idea is that they can be very instrumental in turning the Jewish state to first, a non-Jewish state, and finally, an Arab state, because it will be much more instrumental for them politically to work from inside the Jewish state in order to undermine it, than not to be a part of it. Also, remember that the contribution of the Arab population in Israel, in terms of their contribution to the Israeli economy, is much smaller than the contribution of the Jews, and when you look at the standard of living that the Arabs have inside Israel, it is very heavily subsidized by the Jews. The Arabs in Israel say that it's not subsidized enough and they claim that poor Jews are more subsidized than Arabs but if you look at the numbers, it is very clear that they are heavily subsidized by the Jews. So why not live in a place where at one and the same time you can live in a modern state instead of a Palestinian state, you can live in a democratic state instead of a Palestinian state, you can live in a state that is economically strong instead of a state that is economically weak. Moreover, you can contribute to undermining the Jewish nature of the state of Israel by being a Knesset Member in this Jewish state and claiming that it is illegitimate and try to undermine the Jewish nature of the state of Israel.

David Essing: Well, Dr Schueftan these ideas that you have just analyzed, now seem to make sense but as they say in the US, 'will it fly?' And can the examples of for example what’s been going on in Lebanon, Cyprus, Yugoslavia, Northern Ireland, can these be brought into the discussion to try and put this case forward?

Dr. Dan Schueftan: The question is what you call 'will it fly?' Will a negotiated settlement bring a permanent peace between Israel and the Palestinian state, I doubt it very much. The Palestinians are adamant in their demand that some form of the right of return will be incorporated; this would bring the destruction of the state of Israel and I don’t think the Jews will accept any settlement with the right of return. Nor do think that the Palestinians will accept a settlement without the right of return. So will that work, in my view no. But can Israel unilaterally determine its borders and wait indefinitely until the Arabs adopt a different position? In my view this is possible, after all, this is what we’ve done for one - hundred years or if you want, since the establishment of the state of Israel. Israel was born, built and developed, all the achievements of Israel were done without the consent of the Arabs and very often with the violent opposition of the Arabs. Israel imposed its existence on the Arabs, against the will of the Arabs. So in terms of can it work? Not perfectly, but quite well as it did in recent generations; my answer is definitely yes. And what is more important than my answer is the answer of mainstream Israelis. In the 1990's, the fantasy of peace was very popular in Israel and people believed that very soon we will have peace and it’s only a question of this or that concession. Now Israelis have moved away from the fantasy of peace, they're willing to make enormous concessions, more than ever before, but they understand very well that these concessions will not produce peace, Israel will not be in Gaza, Israel will eventually not be in Nablus, but this will not convince the Palestinians not to seek a return to Haifa inside the 67 Israel. So once the mainstream of Israelis is aware of this new reality, and Israelis understand that they don’t have a choice but to live without peace, they will be able to flourish and succeed as they have in the past, as they do today even without peace. Would it be better to do it with peace, Yes, but can you indefinitely wait for the Arabs to make peace when many of the Palestinians are much more interested in how much harm they can do to the Jews than in how much they good they can do for their own children, I don’t think that waiting for it is realistic and mainstream Israelis don’t think today that this is realistic.

David Essing

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