Anger at peace plan could mobilize Arab voters

Friday, February 7, 2020
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AP

The Israeli Arab town of Umm al-Fahm, far back, and the Israeli Moshav of Mei Ami.

UMM AL-FAHM, Israel (AP) — It might have seemed to be one of the more innocuous elements in President Donald Trump’s deeply divisive Middle East peace initiative: the suggestion that a densely populated Arab region of Israel be added to a future Palestinian state, if both sides agree.

Instead, the proposal has infuriated many of Israel’s Arab citizens, who view it as a form of forced transfer. They want no part in the Palestinian state envisioned by the Trump administration, with many comparing it to the areas set aside for black South Africans as part of the apartheid government’s policy of racial segregation.

The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank also has adamantly rejected the plan, which would allow Israel to annex all of its settlements and large parts of the West Bank, leaving the Palestinians with limited autonomy in an archipelago of enclaves surrounded by Israel.

Inside Israel, outrage over the plan could once again mobilize Arab voters ahead of elections next month, potentially denying Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu another term and throwing the implementation of the Trump plan — already a long shot — into greater doubt.

Arab citizens make up about 20% of Israel’s population. They can vote but face discrimination and higher levels of poverty. They have close family ties to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and many identify as Palestinians. But they are also deeply rooted in lands that are now part of Israel, and most are immersed in Israeli society. Their political parties advocate reform, not partition.

Many Jewish-Israelis nevertheless view Arab citizens with suspicion, seeing them as a fifth column sympathetic to the country’s enemies. A small number have been implicated in attacks, including on Thursday, when Israeli police say they shot and killed an Arab citizen in Jerusalem’s Old City after he opened fire and slightly wounded a police officer.

The Trump plan, released last week, “contemplates the possibility” that an area known as the Arab Triangle, which abuts the West Bank and is home to more than 250,000 Arab citizens, could be added to a future Palestinian state if both sides agree. The border would be redrawn, and no one would be uprooted from their homes.

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