Heated debate over Jews staying put in Palestinian state

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ramallah  |  Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu touched off a maelstrom this week across the political spectrum, including from members of his own party, when he said he sees no reason Israeli Jews cannot live under Palestinian sovereignty.

Benjamin Netanyahu

The Prime Minister’s Office told foreign news agencies and the Times of Israel on Jan. 26 that Netanyahu will not force settlers to leave a Palestinian state, even under a permanent peace deal.

The statement, clarifying remarks Netanyahu made two days earlier in Davos, Switzerland, said he believes there can be a Jewish minority in the Palestinian state, just as there is an Arab minority in the Jewish state.

Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the Jewish Home party, called the idea “very dangerous” and said it “reflects an irrationality of values.”

A statement published on Bennett’s Facebook page said, “We did not return to the land of Israel after 2,000 years of longing to live under the government of Mahmoud Abbas.”

Palestinian officials also came out sharply against the idea. Senior PLO executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi said Palestinians would never agree to Israelis living within a Palestinian state, and that Israel’s continued construction in post-1967 areas is destroying the two-state solution of an independent Palestinian state next to Israel.

“There’s no way we will give legality to Israeli settlements,” Ashrawi said.

Some in the international community consider Israeli communities on post-1967 land illegal. An estimated 500,000 Jewish Israelis live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. 

The Palestinian Authority has made the ceding by Israel of all post-1967 lands — with the possible exception of minor territorial swaps — a red line in negotiations, in order to have contiguous land upon which to declare the state of Palestine.

Meanwhile, despite statements by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that there can be no Israeli Jews living in Palestine, other officials say Israelis living in a future Palestinian state has not been ruled out.

Political analyst George Jaqaman said the Palestinian position is clear. “Mahmoud Abbas has said they can stay as citizens of Palestine but not as a people with illegal outposts or living in settlements in the Palestinian territories,” he said.

Despite the official statements, some Palestinians on the street seem open to the idea.

“We accept them [Israelis] to live here as long as they do not want to occupy our land or to provoke us or attack us,” said Mohammad Halabi, who runs an electronics and communications store. “If the settlers legally buy land from Palestinian owners, they can stay, as long as it is not occupation. But it should be by mutual agreement — I should be able to buy land in [Israel].”

Jaqaman said Netanyahu’s statements on Israelis staying in the West Bank even after a political agreement should not be taken seriously and that most likely “it won’t happen.”

“It depends on what is meant here. It hasn’t been specific. Would they be living here as Israeli citizens or Palestinian citizens?” Jaqaman asked.

Israeli officials, however, say Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state before these issues can even be discussed.