Avigdor Lieberman claims transferring Palestinian citizens is perfectly legal

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
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Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Photo: AP

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Photo: AP

Israel’s pugnacious Foreign Minister is trying to put a legal veneer on his proposal to transfer Palestinian citizens into a future Palestinian state.  Avigdor Lieberman has long pushed for stripping Palestinians in Israel of their citizenship, and now has a legal document in his hand claiming that his plan is in line with international law.

The legal document, first reported by Haaretz’s Barak Ravid, is an attempt by Foreign Minister Lieberman to insert his ideas for transfer into the mix as the U.S.-led peace process comes down to its final weeks.  Lieberman wants to transfer Palestinian areas in what’s known as the Triangle–a group of northern towns and villages near the Green Line–to Palestinian Authority control in exchange for Israeli annexation of large settlement blocs like Ma’ale Adumim and Gush Etzion.  An estimated 300,000 Palestinians live in the Triangle.  In total, about 1.5 million Palestinians have Israeli citizenship.

Ravid reports that Ehud Keinan, a Foreign Ministry legal adviser, concluded that a transfer plan would be in line with international law if it fulfills three conditions: the consent of the Palestinian Authority; a prohibition on making a Palestinian stateless; and a compensation scheme for those who are left outside of Israel’s borders.  The document cites historical precedents like the agreement to give French colonialists three years to choose between Algerian and French citizenship–an ironic example, since in this case it would be the victims of settler colonialism who have their citizenship stripped.

Tellingly, the document floats the idea of transferring the land and its inhabitants without their express consent.  In Ravid’s telling, “Keinan says in the legal opinion that while the right to choice is accepted practice, it is not required by international law.”  If the proposal ever becomes enacted, the opinion lays the groundwork for stripping the citizenship of Palestinians without their consent, since the vast majority of Palestinian citizens are vehemently opposed to such an arrangement.  Palestinians reject being transferred to legitimize illegal settlements, and fear that a Palestinian state would still be subject to the whims of Israeli control.  Palestinian Authority officials have previously rejected any population transfer.

The transfer plan, associated with Lieberman but backed by Israelis across the political spectrum, fulfills a number of key objectives.

As the American Civil Liberties Union’s Jamil Dakwar outlined in the Journal of Palestine Studies, the plan decreases the number of Palestinians within Israel, always a key concern for the self-described Jewish state that is constantly worried about Palestinian birth rates.  Since the transfer proposal would be part of an agreement that establishes a Palestinian state, Israel could worry less about the ratio of Jews to Palestinians living within its territory. Secondly, it would give Israel the right to annex key settlement blocs it has always wanted international legitimacy for.  And thirdly, it would remove what Israeli officials have called a “fifth column”–Palestinians within Israel.  In recent years, Palestinian citizens have issued calls for Israel to change into a state of all its citizens–demands that the Shin Bet head called a “strategic threat to the state’s existence.”

Despite the Foreign Ministry’s determination, any plan to transfer Palestinian citizens would raise at least alarm bells in the international community.  And as Dakwar notes, the plan could conflict with international treaties like the UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, which states: “A contracting state may not deprive any person or group of persons of their nationality on racial, ethnic, religious, or political grounds.” Israel is a signatory to the treaty.

The news of the legal document purporting to legitimize population transfer comes two and a half months after the Israeli news outlet Maariv reported that Israeli negotiators had proposed such a plan to the U.S.  Days after the report was published, Lieberman affirmed his support for population transfer in a speech.

Palestinian activists and Members of Knesset slammed the proposal in response. Officials from the city of Umm al-Fahm called the proposal a “second Nakba” and said, “we are the children of this land. We inherited it from our ancestors, and nobody can speak or negotiate on our behalf in any future agreement with the Palestinians.”

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