Will Jews be able to live in future Palestine?
A source from the Prime Minister's Office said that Palestinians should accept Jewish settlers as residents in a future Palestinian state, causing a massive storm. The idea has a long history, and some settlers, as well as some Palestinians, are not so sure it’s a bad one
The right flank of the Likud and rightist coalition partners Habayit Hayehudi were enraged by the news that a senior official in the Prime Minister's Office said that the Palestinians should allow Jewish settlers to remain in the West Bank should a Palestinian state be formed.
However, West Bank settlers are not so quick to reject the idea. "That will be the solution in the end," said a resident of the settlement of Efrat.
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Sunday, a source within the PMO told the Associated Press that "The prime minister believes that in peace, just as Israel has an Arab minority, there is no logical reason why the Palestinian state could not contain a Jewish minority and that Jews living in Judea and Samaria would be given the option to stay"
Shmuel Peleg, 30, from Efrat, agrees and says that there will be no choice but to let the settlers remain under Palestinian sovereignty, should a Palestinian state be formed in the future.
"On the one hand the state cannot allow itself to reimburse so many settlers and on the other hand it makes no sense to uproot settlement blocs. This reality would be very complicated and would entail difficult dilemmas – will the Palestinian people be willing to live side by side with us? How will we visit our family and friends in Israel?"
After a final agreement is signed, Peleg claims, he would prefer to live under Palestinian sovereignty then return to Israel. "If I'll feel safe I would probably stay. But to reach an agreement you need to be very careful and act thoughtfully."
Though not necessarily representative, Peleg is surely not alone, nonetheless, settlers seem to think the idea would never really be actualized.
"The idea has been around for many years," said Eitan Cohen, who lives in a south Mount Hebron settlement. "Everyone knows that there will be no agreement anytime soon and that the comments (made by the PMO official) were meant to create a headline. I am surprised that there was a statement that says something so blatantly – the State is willing to give up on Jewish citizens."
Of course, there are many who reject the idea: Ehud Amiton, 27, a manager at the Tazipt news agency and a resident of the Nave Tsuf settlement, is adamantly opposed to the move.
"The meaning of being 'a free people in our nation' (a line from Israel's national anthem) is first and foremost the concentration of Jews from the Diaspora and not subjugating them to a foreign sovereign," he explained.
"This ridicules idea pops up every time peace talks hit a hard patch. If Netanyahu agrees to it, it would be a complete betrayal of everything he believes in and promised us. I expect my prime minister to protect my citizenship and not appease the Palestinians."
To those who say they can accept the idea, he says they can "travel to the US or Europe where they will have a better quality of life and still live under a foreign regime."
The possibility that settlers will live under a future Palestinian state has always placed the Palestinians in a bind. The Ramallah leadership never knew what to do with it: on the one hand the settlers have always been a thorn in the side of Palestinians' society and thus Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas cannot suddenly accept them with open arms. On the other hand, the Palestinian leadership is attempting to embrace liberal standards, and thus cannot decide that people of a certain ethnicity or religion cannot reside in their state.
In recent years, Abbas has said on a number of occasions – including to Israelis visiting his Ramallah headquarters – that he is willing to accept a Jewish presence in a future Palestine as long as they would accept Palestinian sovereignty and carry Palestinian ID cards.
Even former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has made comments to the effect. In 2009, (while he was still in office) Fayyad said that Jews who chose to live in the Palestinian state will retain full civil rights, at least as much as those enjoyed by Israel's Arab minority.
But there were also those who think otherwise. In 2011, days before the Palestinians petitioned the UN to join as a member state, Palestinian Ambassador to the UN Maan Erekat was quoted as saying that the future Palestinian state would be free of Jews and it is better that the two people live independently.
The statement prompted Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to call the position 'Judenrein' and Erekat apologized, telling the Huffington Post that "Under no circumstances was I saying that no Jews can be in Palestine. This is not a religious conflict, and we want to establish a secular state."
Since US Secretary of State John Kerry began his shuttle-diplomacy mission in the Mideast, the Palestinians have held their tongue on the issue.
Last week, PLO official Yasser Abed Rabbo gave an interview with a Palestinian magazine saying that he heard that Israel is interested in either long-term leasing of what is left in the non-bloc settlements or to keep these settlements within the Palestinian country, along with maintaining the Israeli citizenship of those who reside there.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said: "Anyone who says he wants to keep settlers in the Palestinian state is actually saying that he doesn't want a Palestinian state. No settler will be allowed to stay in the Palestinian state, not even a single one, because settlements are illegal and the presence of the settlers on the occupied lands is illegal."
Elior Levy, Attila Somfalvi contributed to this report.