TEL AVIV // Israel's foreign minister demanded yesterday that some of Israel's Arab citizens be stripped of their citizenship and transferred to a future Palestinian state. In comments that infuriated Arab Israeli legislators, Avigdor Lieberman, the head of the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, said the country's borders should be redrawn to exclude any Israeli Arab who does not recognise Israel as a Jewish state. Israel's Arab minority makes up about one-fifth of the country's population.
Although Mr Lieberman's proposal is not new, its timing may provoke Israeli Arabs and make Washington's goal of reaching a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians within a year more difficult. Peace talks began this month. "Whoever claims that he is fighting against Zionism should go over to become citizens of the Palestinian Authority," Mr Lieberman, whose party is the second-biggest in the governing coalition, told reporters before the weekly cabinet meeting.
He especially targeted Hanin Zoabi, an Arab-Israeli legislator who had been denounced as a traitor by several right-wing Jewish politicians because she was aboard an aid flotilla in May that protested Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip. "People like Hanin Zoabi should be Palestinian citizens and go get elected in Gaza by Hamas," he said. Ms Zoabi responded yesterday by saying the foreign minister "represents apartheid and ethnic cleansing".
Mr Lieberman, whose party gained wide support in elections last year after questioning the loyalty of Arab citizens, also rejected trading land captured by Israel for peace. The "land for peace" concept has formed the foundation of peace talks with the Palestinians for almost two decades. "The principle that guides us should not be territories for peace, but an exchange of territories and populations," Mr Lieberman said yesterday.
The foreign minister has said in the past that Israel's borders should be redrawn so that some Arab communities are transferred to a future Palestinian state. At the same time, he has said Jewish settlements in the West Bank should be incorporated into Israel's borders. Mr Lieberman, who lives in a settlement in the West Bank, said such a deal is necessary because many Israeli Arabs do not recognise Israel's right to exist.
Husam Zamlot, a Palestinian spokesman, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying Mr Lieberman's comments may complicate peace talks. "He holds the second-most important position in the Israeli government. Therefore we are extremely discouraged by his remarks," Mr Zamlot said. Mr Lieberman also repeated scepticism he has expressed in recent weeks about the peace talks. Referring by kunya (or honorific) to Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, which is conducting the negotiations with Israel, he said: "Abu Mazen will not sign a peace agreement, but we should try to reach a long-term interim arrangement."
The Palestinians have said they oppose negotiating an interim pact and demand that talks focus on a final deal on core issues. firstname.lastname@example.org