Contained in President Trump’s peace plan is a proposal for “the Triangle communities [to] become part of the State of Palestine.” That bit requires some clarification.
What came to be known as “the Triangle” refers to 19 Arab villages and towns annexed to Israel after the 1949 armistice line was accepted by Israel and Jordan. This line, incidentally, runs right through the middle of the villages of Baqa al-Gharbiyye and Barta’a, and has turned them into separate Israeli and Jordanian (later to become Palestinian) villages. The border line from Tayibe in the south to Umm al-Fahm in the north is actually more of a belt where, according to a 2016 survey, some 300,000 Arabs live.
In an attempt to offset the Arab dominance in this strategic area, Israel built Jewish communities along the Triangle, from Kibbutz Eyal in the south to Kibbutz Givat Oz in in the north. The “seven stars plan” of 1991 added more Jewish communities along the Triangle, including the towns of Harish and Katzir.
Not the first time
Trump wasn’t the first to suggest such an exchange of territories. Yisrael Beiteinu party chief Avigdor Liberman proposed it back in 2004, when he was Transportation Minister. Liberman’s plan wasn’t taken seriously by the Israeli government at the time, and was strongly opposed by the Israeli Arab leadership and the Israeli Left.
Liberman’s plan, however, made sense. When Israelis proposed to the Palestinians annexing Jewish settlement blocs in exchange for unpopulated Israeli territory in Israel’s south, Liberman opted for Arab villages in exchange of Jewish settlements. Liberman, like many Israelis, reasoned that since many of the Triangle villages have anyhow chosen to be identified as de facto Palestinians, they might as well become de jure Palestinians.
Holding the stick at both ends
Whether Trump’s proposal will be taken seriously remains to be seen. What it does, however, is expose the present conundrum among Israeli Arabs, who want to hold the stick at both ends. Israeli Arabs, and I suggest the minority among them, want to enjoy the best of both worlds – Palestinian identity with Israeli citizenship, the latter of which has brought them prosperity that most Palestinians can only dream of.
The absurdity of this position came into full view in the latest protests against Trump’s proposal. Arab leaders like Tayibe Mayor Sha’a Mansour Massarwa called the proposal a “nightmare,” while protestors in Wadi Ara that runs along some of the Triangle they waved Palestinian flags.
Something similar happened at a demonstration of leftists in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, organized by extreme NGOs like Peace Now, Ir Amim and Zazim. In addressing the rally, the former head of the far-left Meretz party, Tamar Zandberg, called Trump’s proposal a “de facto transfer” plan, and Joint Arab List MK Aida Touma-Suleiman called it “the apartheid state plan,” while some Jewish protestors were waving Palestinian flags. “How moronic it is,” wrote someone on Facebook, “to raise the flag of a state you don’t want to be a part of.”
Army Radio reporter Hadas Shteif expressed the sentiments of many when she called on Twitter for like-minded Israelis to join her planned relocation to the Triangle, which, no doubt, will not be met kindly by the Triangle’s Arab residents.
Even so, the low attendance at both demonstrations (a mere 2,000 people turned out) may indicate that despite their leaders’ vitriolic attitude toward the Jewish state, Israeli Arabs in general don’t have a problem being Israelis, and nothing else.