Israeli FM Liberman tells UNGA that borders should be withdrawn to reflect "demographic reality"

Haaretz is reporting that “Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Tuesday presented the United Nations with his draft for a population and territory swap, as part of an eventual peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians”.

The Haaretz report, written by Barak Ravid, states that “Under Lieberman’s controversial scheme, part of Israel’s Arab population would be moved to a newly created Palestinians state, in return for evacuation of Israeli settlements in the West Bank”.

But it does not appear that Lieberman is proposing settlement evacuation at all.

No, there is no mention of population transfer. He is saying that everybody should just stay put, and just the borders will change.

What he seemed to be saying is that the borders should be withdrawn to include the settlements within Israel, and at the same time to give to the Palestinian Authority some areas of Israel inhabited largely by Israeli Arab-Palestinians — including a Galilee “triangle” of territory along the border with the West Bank including the cities of Umm al-Fahm and Taibe.

Before seeing a full text of Lieberman’s speech, it will not be possible to say whether or not he mentioned the word settlement at all — but right now I’d bet he didn’t.

UPDATE: Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon’s Twitter account has just helpfully posted a link to the full text of Lieberman’s speech, here. So, I find that I’m wrong. Lieberman told the UNGA that “The second flawed explanation for the longstanding conflict between Israel and the Palestinians which has gained popularity is that the root of the problem is the so-called “occupation”, the settlements in Judea and Samaria and the settlers themselves. Only the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in Judea, Samaria [i.e. – the West Bank] and Gaza, so the argument goes, will ensure peace in the region … [But] all of Judea, Samaria [i.e. – the West Bank] and Gaza were under Arab control for 19 years, between 1948 and 1967. During these 19 years, no-one tried to create a Palestinian state”. And, Lieberman told the UNGA, Israel achieved peace treaties with both Egypt and Jordan, despite the fact that there were Israeli settlements being built in the West Bank… Then, Lieberman said that “To achieve a final status agreement, we must understand that the primary practical obstacle is the friction between the two nations. [This is also true elsewhere in the world, Lieberman noted] … Where effective separation has been achieved, conflict has either been avoided, or has been dramatically reduced or resolved. Consider the cases of the former Yugoslav republics, the split-up of Czechoslovakia and the independence of East Timor, as cases in point”. Then, Lieberman said, “Thus, the guiding principle for a final status agreement must not be land-for-peace but rather, exchange of populated territory. Let me be very clear: I am not speaking about moving populations, but rather about moving borders to better reflect demographic realities”. Aha!

Earlier in the week, as the unilateral Israeli 10-month “settlement moratorium” expired, UN Secretary-General BAN Ki Moon uncharacteristically went out on a limb and reminded everyone that settlements were illegal under international law — an argument which Israel has traditionally rejected, on the basis that they believe the Palestinian territory they occupy is “disputed”, not in fact occupied, because there was “no prior legal sovereign”… [Jordan was an occupier, and on top of that they weren’t even allowed to join the UN until six years after the admission of Israel.]

UPDATE: Aluf Benn wrote in Haaretz on Wednesday that “the foreign minister is implying that Netanyahu’s demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state is merely cover for the expulsion of Arab citizens”. But, in another Haaretz article on Wednesday. we learn that U.S. Jews abhor and are outraged by Lieberman’s remarks to the UNGA from a report in Haaretz here.

This article notes that “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had not seen Lieberman’s speech in advance – but did not reject his land swap proposal”. The report added that “The Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement on Wednesday stating that ‘Lieberman’s address was not coordinated with the prime minister’, adding that ‘Netanyahu is the one handling the negotiations on Israel’s behalf. The various issues surrounding a peace agreement will be discussed and decided only at the negotiating table, and nowhere else’. But, Abe Foxman, long-time head of the Anti-Defamation league, told Haaretz that “Lieberman’s positions were not completely at odds with Netanyahu’s policy, given the prime minister’s stated view that implementation of any peace agreement would have to be spread out over a number of years”…

Meanwhile, Bradley Burston wrote in his blog, A Special Place in Hell, on the Haaretz website that “They say the first step in dealing with rage is acknowledging it. So here it is: I have become a bigot where it comes to the settlement movement. I believe that the officials, the activists, and the Diaspora bankrollers and rooting section of this movement have ruined my life. They ruin it a little more every single day. The extent to which they have embittered the lives of millions of Palestinians is incalculable. I won’t pretend to know what they go through or how it feels. For the moment, I just want to talk about what the settlement movement does to its fellow Israelis, and why so many of us are so fed up. We struck a bargain years ago. This was how it worked for me: I would donate a month a year away from home to keep them safe … I struck another deal. Year after year I would pay high taxes to subsidize settlement houses, their private highways, their utilities, their yeshivas, the bottomless cost of safeguarding remote and illegal outposts. A theater in Ariel. In return, settler leaders and activists spearheaded civil and military policies that trampled Palestinian rights to water, highway use, personal security, and housing, and to medical, educational and vocational opportunity. Rabbis and yeshiva directors whose salaries I paid, turned a blind eye to, or actively encouraged attacks against Palestinians, their livestock and property. Rabbis and yeshiva directors whose salaries I paid incited their students in uniform to refuse government orders to evict settlers, and stood up for their students in outlaw enclaves who branded IDF soldiers as Nazis. Some bargain. I kept trying. I watched from the sidelines as vast resources were diverted from decaying and depressed towns and villages within Israel, to support ever-expanding settlements, many of them receiving official permission only years after they were built. In return for my acquiescence, the settlement movement blackened Israel’s democracy and its very name. We gave them Yitzhak Rabin and they gave us Avigdor Lieberman … The majority must make a choice. I’ve made mine. The actions of Ariel in rushing out bulldozers to break the freeze this week made the decision for me. I support the boycott of Ariel. My taxes and my betrayed votes for Labor and my army service built that place. As far as I’m concerned, the deal’s done. The bargain’s over. The settlers are not my enemy, but the settlements are“. This Bradley Burston blog post on Haaretz is published here.

This Israeli proposal — which was actually also endorsed last December by former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, leader of the Kadima party, who was a protege of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who also spoke about this — is not considered completely crazy by a number of people in Israel. They apparently don’t think they need to even ask, or consult, Israeli Arab-Palestinians [or Palestinians living in East Jerusalem who are permanent residents of Israel] who would be affected by such a redrawing of the border.

Ravid’s report continued: ” ‘A final agreement between Israel and the Palestinians has to be based on a program of exchange of territory and populations’, Lieberman told the United Nations General Assembly in New York. The foreign minister stressed that his proposals did not represent a scheme for ‘populations transfer’, a phrase that evokes historical proposals by Israel’s extreme right to evict Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza altogether. ‘We are not talking about population transfer but about defining borders so as best to reflect the demographic reality’, [Lieberman] said.

Ravid noted that Lieberman’s decision to discuss his proposals at the UNGA “in his role as foreign minister will raise speculation over whether they are his private plan, or the official policy of the Israeli government, and Netanyahu is likely to face international calls for clarification”. This is reported here.

The New York Times is now reporting here that Netanyahu is distancing himself, if not disowning, Lieberman’s statements.

At a public discussion held at the American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem on Tuesday evening, Victor Kattan, author of From Coexistence to Conquest, a new book looking at international law and the 19th century history of the conflict, the idea of population transfer was discussed in various British proposals worked out during their Mandate over Palestine, awarded by the League of Nations at the end of World War I. The United Nations, which was the successor international organization which, at the end of World War II, took over from the League of Nations, developed a quite different approach, when Britain said it wanted to get rid of its responsibility for Palestine. In UN General Assembly Resolution 181 of 29 November 1947, the UNGA decided to adopt the recommendation of a committee of member states to partition the territory of the Palestinian Mandate to create two states — one Jewish and one Arab [and declare Jerusalem a corpus separatum that would be under UN administration for at least 10 years]…

The departure of Palestinians from their homes either from expulsions carried out by Jewish fighters or from fear of the fighting that surrounded the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 was a reversion to the idea of population transfer, which is one reason why the current Israeli proposals are received now with such anger and revulsion.

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