In recent years the focus of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been on the future control of the territories in the West Bank. Will Israeli rule prevail, or will a viable Palestinian state be established alongside Israel, guaranteeing the security and peace of both? The focal point of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in recent years has been the future control of the territories of the West Bank. Will Israeli rule continue, or will a viable Palestinian State be established alongside the State of Israel, in a way that ensures both states' existence, in peace and security? The major subjects on the negotiation agenda are borders, refugees and East Jerusalem. The Arab citizens of Israel, , who make up one fifth of the citizens of Israel and approximately one fifth of the Palestinian people from the Jordan to the Mediterranean, were not listed among Israel-PLO permanent status issues, and were not discussed.
The idea of (unpopulated) territorial exchange between Israel and the Palestinians in the framework of the permanent status agreement, based on the precedent in the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan in 1994, was expressly mentioned in President Clinton's December 2000 proposal. The increase in tension and alienation between the Jewish and Arab populations, especially after the events of October 2000, reinforced the call within the Jewish population in Israel for transfer of territory inhabited by Arab citizens from Israel to the Palestinian state, when established. Talk of "demographic balance", which became the new strategy of the Zionist left's public struggle to end the occupation and achieve a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians, expanded into the borders of the State of Israel. These voices are being heard not only from the right wing of the political map in Israel, such as Avigdor Lieberman, but also from circles far from it, such as former Prime Minister Ehud Barak. To date, no detailed program defining territory and population data has been presented, nor has substantive discussion taken place regarding the feasibility, interests, and implications stemming from this idea.
The goal behind the idea of transferring Arab inhabited territories to the Palestinian state is primarily the reinforcement of the Jewish majority in the State of Israel, and some believe that such a transfer will also allow the State of Israel to retain a number of settlement blocs. The logic of the idea is identical to the 1947 partition principles – splitting the country into two nation states according to demographic and settlement layout, with the "green line" serving as a line of reference. However, the practical meaning of implementing such an idea is the revocation of the Israeli citizenship of tens of thousands of citizens, against their will, due to their identity as members of the Arab-Palestinian people; turning them into the citizens of another state; detaching them from the lives they built in the State of Israel; and transferring them to a new-old lifestyle. For some of its supporters, this idea is presumed to "kill two birds with one stone" – annexation of settlement blocs and reinforcement of the Jewish majority; to others, it is merely self defense on the part of the Jewish majority, against efforts by a part of the Arab minority to annul the Jewish character of the State of Israel.
The feasibility of this idea depends primarily upon Palestinian consent. The determination of the border between the states and the transfer of population cannot be undertaken unilaterally, rather only as a part of a bilateral agreement. Under the present circumstances, the idea has no Palestinian partner. The Palestinian side, represented by the PLO, has no interest in implementing such a plan. Nor does it seem that the Palestinians' leaders would agree to a step opposed by Arab citizens who are to become citizens of their state, especially when implementation of the plan is part of territorial exchange which would leave settlement blocs deep within the Palestinian state.
Exchange of inhabited territory has no precedent in the post World War era, before the formulation of the various human rights conventions. From the legal standpoint, stipulated border changes are acceptable in international law, and even possible according to Israeli law, as long as they are authorized by the Knesset. However, revocation of the citizenship of tens of thousands of people simply since they are Arabs living near the border, and transferring them to Palestinian sovereignty completely against their will, are not legal according to Israeli or international law.
The demographic argument at the base of this idea assumes that the Jewish majority in the State of Israel is endangered by the rising number of Arab citizens, and by the intensifying demands for de-Zionization of the state in a way which endangers its Jewish character. However, studies show that, barring alteration to the present borders of the State of Israel , including East Jerusalem, the Jewish sector will still represent 74% of the population in 2050, and without East Jerusalem, a percentage yet higher. Not only has no detailed plan with clear data outlining the territory and the number of Arab citizens ever been presented; the precise examination which we present in this study also shows that the change which such a plan would bring about would likely be most marginal. The population of the Wadi Ara and Galil "triangle" of settlements, consisting of 228,000 people, is only 16.3% of the Arab population of Israel. However, study of those potential settlements according to various strategic criteria shows that, practically, it is possible to speak of a maximum number of 147,650 and a minimum number of 115,650 people, who make up only 8.2%-10.5% of the Arab population of Israel (2.1% of the total population of the state). For the sake of comparison, the number of Palestinians expected to become Israeli citizens against their will, should East Jerusalem become part of the State of Israel, is 231,000 people: that is to say, double. The demographic argument seems to speak for preserving the democratic Jewish character of the State of Israel; yet it is far from clear why there are people who believe that revocation of the citizenship of tens of thousands of Arabs against their will, because they are Arabs, sits well with the Jewish character of the state, needless to mention its democratic character.
The setting of the issue on the internal Israeli political agenda even before it has become a part of any Israeli negotiation stance has many implications for Israeli society in general, and for Arab society specifically. It seems that such a proposal will destroy the little which remains of Israeli Arabs' sentiment of belonging to the state, and of the chances of success of their trend of integration into Israeli society. The Arab population in Israel labors consistently to achieve equality and to intensify its integration into general Israeli society. A plan to transfer territory and population is liable to be the final stage in the political and social process of civil de-legitimization of the Arab population of Israel, and the final stage of that population's exit from the Israeli system. As a result, the relations between majority and minority, and between the state and the Arab population, are liable to once again take on a new-old character: a violent nationalist character which seeks out conflict, not rapprochement.
In the external arena, including the issue in peace negotiations with the Palestinians would turn the discussion from one of the dispute regarding the 1967 borders, into one of ethnic-settlement partition boundaries, and create a precedent for Israeli willingness to forfeit inhabited territories within the State of Israel. Adding the issue of the Arabs in Israel to the other issues awaiting decision in the permanent status negotiations would also lead to a discussion of other issues regarding that population, such as "the internal refugees" , expropriation of Arab lands, and majority-minority relations in the state, and lead to internationalization of majority-minority relations – a subject which, to date, has been an internal matter of the state.
In the absence of either internal or external Palestinian partners to the idea of populated land exchanges, being both being are invalid under Israeli and international law due to its coercive nature, and given its marginal demographic significance, this proposal, which attempts to shift an Arab population to Palestinian sovereignty, should be viewed as part of a political discourse stirring Jewish society in Israel today. Seeing as there are no internal or external Palestinian partners for the idea of transfer of inhabited territories, (which cannot be done against the will of the transferees according to Israeli and international law, and is of most marginal demographic significance), such a proposal, by which Arab population would be transferred to Palestinian sovereignty, should be seen as a part of a political process in Israeli Jewish society today, in which new political consensus and coalitions (which were not previously possible) are being formed between figures from the left and right, on the basis of the principle of partition of the country into two nation states. Discussion of this idea is actually a part of the discussion on expanding the public legitimacy of the proposed final status agreement, and part of the dispute regarding the future of settlement blocs, and regarding the character of the Jewish nation state in the era after the peace treaties have been signed. This discussion is important, and legitimate, to the extent that it is presented as it truly is; but not when voiced by those who wish to decide the discussion in advance by steps which are at odds with international and Israeli law; are demographically meaningless, practically speaking; and come at the expense of the rights and future of the entire Arab population in the State of Israel, while dealing a fatal blow to Arab-Jewish relations and to the democratic character of the State of Israel. In order to discuss, and come to equitable and legal decisions regarding the character of the State of Israel in the era of peace between all involved parties, the Government of Israel must first implement an official emergency plan to cancel out the discrimination and the gaps between Jews and Arabs in the state, and thus to turn the latter into citizens equal in rights and obligations, as well as a plan to advance the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in order to realize the Palestinian people's right to self determination. These two steps will allow all Arab citizens of Israel to define their identity and the extent of their belonging to the State of Israel, and to choose, from an equal national standing, the state with which they identify and in which they choose to exercise the right of citizenship.