Israeli FM defends controversial population-transfer plan

Photo: Israeli FM defends controversial population-transfer plan / Israel

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman defended Wednesday his proposal to hand over Israeli Arab towns to the Palestinian Authority's rule in exchange for sovereignty over Jewish settlements in the West Bank, Xinhua reported.

Lieberman's plan designates that Arab towns in the "triangle" region southeast of Haifa, including some heavily populated towns, would become part of a Palestinian state in any future agreement, in exchange for the Jewish settlement blocks in the West Bank. There are some 300,000 Israeli Arabs living in the area.

However, Lieberman's proposal, known as the population-transfer plan, met strong opposition from the many Arabs living in the areas it suggests to cede to the Palestinians.

"All of a sudden, they are an integral part of the state of Israel," he added, expressing doubts about the Arabs' sense of belonging to the state of Israel.

Israeli President Shimon Peres on Wednesday expressed disapproval about the plan by calling it "impractical." He said: " Israel can't take away its citizens' citizenship simply because they're Arabs."

The plan also received mounts of criticism from left-wing politicians and from within Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition.

On Tuesday, Interior Minister Gideon Sa'ar expressed objection to the plan and said that any long term agreement must stipulate that the Israeli Arabs remain in Israeli territories.

20 percent of the Israeli population is made of Arabs, who live in Arab villages and mixed cities across the country.

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