The idea of a vague “land swap” has often been discussed within Israel as a way not only to keep the settlements built in occupied territory, but as a way to get rid of some of their pesky ethnic and religious minorities. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now floating a specific proposal to do just that.
Under the proposal, which Netanyahu is said to have forwarded to the White House, seeking a US imprimatur, the Israeli government would formally annex the Gush Etzion bloc of settlements in the West Bank, and “in return” would give the Palestinians a series of villages in Wadi Ara.
While this is being couched as an even-up trade, what’s actually being proposed here is for Israel to formally expel ethnic Arab villages in Wadi Ara, which are part of Israel’s pre-1967 borders, and whose residents, while Arabs, are Israeli citizens.
This move has been advocated by members of Israel’s far-right government for years as a way of ensuring Israel remains a Jewish majority state. It’s not at all clear, however, that the Palestinian Authority, let alone the residents of the villages, are at all supportive of this proposal.
Moreover, it’s not at all clear from the proposal what’s going to happen to the residents of these expelled villages, who are Israeli citizens at the moment. The assumption in past proposals seems to be they’d become “Palestinians,” transforming from the second-class citizenship they now enjoy to outright people living under military occupation.
That’s also a problem with this trade, as the assumption even among far-right officials had always been that this “trade” would be part of a two-state solution. Doing it right now, as Netanyahu wants, means the Israeli occupation continues, and actually expands into villages that used to be under civil jurisdiction.
Netanyahu is said to be making the legal pretext for this move a formal expansion of the borders of Jerusalem to include this significant chunk of the West Bank, arguing that since Israel claims “all of Jerusalem” as eternal and undivided, they can just tack new regions onto their definition of Jerusalem and claim them as well.
Some Israelis are said to be concerned this legal sleight of hand is dangerous, because much of occupied East Jerusalem was already stretching the definition of Jerusalem more than a little bit, and expanding it further would water-down the legal claims over it even further.