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Netanyahu touts land swap with future Palestine in talks with US officials – report

Netanyahu touts land swap with future Palestine in talks with US officials – report
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly suggested Tel Aviv may dispose of several Israeli Arab villages, exchanging them for Jewish West Bank settlements, while discussing the Arab-Israeli peace process with top US officials, Israeli media reports.

The topic was allegedly brought up during a phone call between Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner and US Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, Israel’s Channel 2 reported Thursday, citing unidentified US officials.

While it is not clear when the leaked conversation exactly took place, Channel 2 reported that Netanyahu and the US officials exchanged their visions of a final map that would draw a line under a decades-old Israel-Palestine conflict a few weeks ago.

Unveiling details of the plan, proposed by Netahyahu, the channel reported that Israel would hand over villages with a predominantly Arab population located in Wadi Ara area in the Haifa District to Palestine. In return, Israel would seek to annex a cluster of Jewish settlements in the Gush Etzion block in the West Bank.

READ MORE: Israel approves largest West Bank settlement construction in 25 years

Land-swapping plans revealed in the report indicate a change of mind by the Israeli Prime Minister, who was not previously known as a proponent of territorial exchanges as part of the settlement policy unlike his defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman. For his part, Lieberman has been actively promoting the transfer of jurisdiction and populations of towns, located in the so-called Triangle, a concentration of Israeli Arab towns near the Green Line, including Wadi Ara area, to Palestine in exchange for almost all Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

The plan, first presented by Lieberman in 2004, and in particular, its provision that stipulates that Arab Israelis will have their citizenship revoked once the towns they live in are relinquished, drew ire from the majority of Arab Israelis and has not found support with Israeli political establishment. Lieberman, known for his nationalistic, hawkish views, has been accused of treating Israelis of Arab origin as second-class citizens and infringing on democratic values by proposing to strip people of citizenship judging by their ethnicity and religion. 

READ MORE: ​Israeli FM calls for beheading of Arab citizens disloyal to Israel

In 2014, then-Israeli President Shimon Peres denounced Lieberman’s initiative, saying that “Israel cannot take away its citizens’ citizenship simply because they’re Arab.”

Despite the backlash and constant lack of support from the Israeli leadership, Lieberman continued to stick to his plan through the years. At this year’s Munich International Security Conference in February he reaffirmed his stance, arguing that the “biggest problem” with the current proposals for conflict resolution is that they presume establishing “a very homogenous Palestinian state without even one Jew and we will become a binational state with more than 20 percent of the population Palestinians.”

After Channel 2 published the report on Netanyahu allegedly discussing his plan with the US officials, Liberman voiced support for the PM, retweeting a link to the report and writing “welcome to the club” to Netanyahu.

While neither the Israeli PM’s office nor Washington publicly commented on the alleged exchange, the unnamed US official told the Jerusalem Post the issue of the land swap could have been among those discussed by the parties “several weeks ago.” He stressed, however, that any territorial exchanges should be viewed only “in the context of a peace agreement, and not in the context of separate annexation.”