Do not say ‘transfer’

“Ethnically homogeneous states must be created… Creating homogeneous states would require drawing new borders and transferring populations.”

“The great powers should organize and finance the transfer of the remaining populations behind the new national borders.”

These statements were not made by a right-wing extremist or a member of an Israeli party which supports ‘transfer’, even though no such party exists. They were also not made in the 1940’s, when the concept of transfer was normative.

These statements were made by two leading professors. At least one of them even became a hero of the anti-Israel camp. I am referring to John J. Mearsheimer, the co-author of a book which slanders the pro-Israel lobby. The second quote belongs to Professor Stephen Van Evera of MIT.

When Mearsheimer is not discussing Israel, which takes the form of a hypocritical obsession replete with double standards, he is considered one of the leaders in the field of political science. Along with Van Evera, he belongs to a group of academic advocates of the ethnic homogeneity of states as the most effective means of achieving stability and peace.

There are those who can use the national homogeneity school of thought to promote the idea of ​​transfer in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict. However, it needs to be declared in advance that this is not the intent of this article, and the fact that there is an academic school of thought that supports the transfer of populations does not lead to a political conclusion which justifies transfer.

The intention of this article is to try to examine in a little more serious manner the proposal raised by Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, which as usual elicited superficial and unserious reactions. Transfer is an idea that was acceptable in the past, but times have changed. A national majority was and remains a worthy idea. So there requires a need to reconcile a resistance to transfer and support for a distinct national character. This is exactly what Liberman did.

Multi-national blood-letting

In most conflicts in the world, especially during the first half of the last century, resolutions were found in the enforced transfer of populations. The last and the largest wave occurred during the 1990’s. One multi-national entity, then called Yugoslavia, broke up into seven entities, while transferring populations and drawing new boundaries.

Perhaps the post-nationalist idea won support in progressive circles. However, in practice in most centers of conflict, a completely different direction was taken.

The Soviet Union collapsed into new borders based on ethnic, national and religious lines. Czechoslovakia broke up into two national entities. South Sudan separated from Sudan, on an ethnic and religious basis, and she threatens to further fall apart along tribal lines. Syria is breaking up along religious lines. Iraq is bleeding because of Sunnis and Shiites demographic challenges. 8,868 were killed during 2013, of which 7,818 were civilians. 185 were killed in the first five days of January and that’s without counting the victims of the battles of the last week in the Anbar province. The quietest and most prosperous area of Iraq remains the Kurdish region which is semi-autonomous. The formula is simple: greater homogeneity equals less confrontation.

Someone should inform the Jewish nationalists who insist on living within Palestinian population centers, and to the progressives who continue to wave the utopian flag of a “state of all its citizens.”

The Left supports Liberman

Mearsheimer’s approach was consistent on the situation in Europe: “The fact is that multiethnic states don’t survive in Europe. If you look all over Europe in the 20th century, what you see is lots of examples of multiethnic states breaking apart and being replaced by ethnically homogeneous states. And when they break apart, they usually break apart in a very bloody fashion. This is regrettable but true.”

There are other professors, especially those who have researched the long history of transfer and the exchange of populations, who hold similar positions. They saw and see what happens to heterogeneous nations. They know that the multi-ethnic model is good for the U.S., but not for most of the world.

Carter Johnson of the University of Maryland examined the issue at a practical level. He arrived at an unequivocal finding; the greater the ethnic separation, the chances of violence as well as the prospects of a resumption of war were lessened.

Before lambasting these professors or Liberman, who dare to recommend national homogeneity, it should also be mentioned that this is the position of the Left regarding the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem. The problem was not the legal right of the Jews who insisted on living there. The courts confirmed those rights. The problem was that it was a mix of populations whose relations are hostile.

This is also the position of most of the left regarding Jerusalem. The demand is to relinquish the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem to maintain a Jewish State.

Which leads us to the question – what exactly is the difference between the Left, at least sane Left, who wants to maintain a Jewish state, and Avigdor Liberman, who suggested that the Arab citizens of Israel who reside close to a proposed Palestinian entity become part of that entity? What is the difference between the Sheikh Jarrah demonstrators and Liberman ?

There are those who argue that the population of eastern Jerusalem wants to be part of a Palestinian state, but the residents of Umm al–Fahm do not. This is another myth.

A survey conducted by The Washington Institute in 2011 reveals that only a quarter of East Jerusalem Palestinians want to be part of a Palestinian state, and 42 % would prefer to move to the Israeli side in the case of a division of the city. This does not make them Zionists. It’s not that they are more supportive of the Likud than Fatah or Hamas. They just prefer the reality under Israeli rule over a wonderful equality under Palestinian rule.

The Right will love this survey, the Left a little less, but presumably it will not shake the supporters of the Geneva Accord from their position, and rightly so. They favor the transfer of Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem to Palestinian Authority protection, just so the State of Israel will not become a bi-national state. They consider less the desire of Arab residents to be part of Israel.

The ‘Narrative’ of Ahmed Tibi

Member of Knesset Ahmed Tibi, who has become the most senior spokesman for the Arab citizens of Israel, explained that the issues of national identity and citizenship should be separated. While he is usually a serious person, this is less than serious, because a condition for civil stability is a common ethos. The citizenship of the residents of Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Syria and Iraq did not create the proper adhesive for coexistence. There are those who managed to separate without the shot of one bullet and there are those whose separation came at a bloody cost, sometimes extremely bloody.

Tibi added this week, in explaining his opposition to Liberman’s proposal, that “there is no nation that has been dispossessed like the Palestinians.”

My dear Ahmed Tibi, we should expect more from you. There are so many distortions in one sentence.

Firstly, the Palestinians were dispossessed because of the Arab leadership’s rejection of the United Nations ‘Partition Plan’ in 1947, who declared a war of destruction. Secondly, the most influential person on the Arab side, the Mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, was a Nazi and an anti-Semite who incited the Arab world against the Jews from Berlin. Thirdly, during those years, tens of millions were dispossessed as part of transfers and exchanges of population. Almost without exception, they did not receive compensation and certainly no ability to return. Fourthly, in accordance with an explicit Arab League resolution, hundreds of thousands of Jews were stripped of all their possessions in Arab countries. Their dispossession was far greater, comparing to the Palestinian refugees.

Mr. Tibi, you can indulge in lies again and again and call them a “narrative”, but from you, I expect a little more.

Identity within spitting distance

The State of Israel, for the avoidance of any doubt, requires a social contract between the majority and the minority. It is necessary to have Israeli Arab representation in the Knesset for those who seek it in a shared sanctum, in an equality of rights provided by the state, and in an equality of obligations from those who wish to be partners.

The idea of ​​homogeneity is not a matter of race or religion. There are no problems emanating from the Hindus in Britain, because they share the common national ethos, and there are no problems between speakers of Italian, French and German in Switzerland. They share a common ethos. There is a problem with Islamists because they conspire against the common ethos

In this sense, the new idea by Yariv Levin, to positively discriminate in favor of Christians, is folly in all its ugliness. A partnership has to be offered to all minorities, including Muslims. However, there is also here a folly in the opposite direction: One cannot demand civic equality and then call young people who want to voluntarily serve in National Service – “lepers”, as is done by some of the leaders of the Arab Israeli public. Citizenship is also about partnership and solidarity; it requires two sides.

And still there is a problem. There are hundreds of thousands of Arabs waving the Palestinian flag nonstop, and sometimes even the flag of Hamas. They live next to an area which they propose as a Palestinian state. They speak the same language, identify as part of the same nation, religion and culture. Sometimes they live within spitting distance of their cousins ​​in “Palestine”, a division arbitrarily created by the ceasefire in 1949. Their ethos is Palestinian, and their heart is there.

With all due respect to their social security payments and other welfare they receive from the government this is no reason to remain part of Israel.

It is possible to find solutions, like, for example, ensuring social rights, access to the labor market, higher education, and more. They will doubly profit, by belonging to the Palestinian state, and retaining civic ties, at least partially, to Israel.

Palestinian homogeneity

There is no need to move one person. However, there is a place to seriously consider moving boundaries, expanding a proposed Palestinian state, and to increase the homogeneity in Israel.

Homogeneity is not racist; it is, I will repeat, the basis for stability.

Regardless, homogeneity does not mean ethnic purity. Even if Liberman’s proposal is accepted, over a million Arabs will remain in Israel.

They deserve equality, rights and partnership. Many of us have strong friends who are Muslims and Christians. We have no interest in alienating them and our efforts should be directed towards ensuring this.

Nevertheless, this should not stop out-of-the-box thinking regarding the issue of two states for two people, especially when there are ongoing discussions on the issue.

After all, Liberman, of all people, understands the need to make painful compromises. Even Netanyahu understands the bi-national trap lurking for the Zionist enterprise. It is impossible for any nation to insist on ethnic purity, and enjoy the support of progressives. However, these same progressives oppose a far saner and more moderate idea, of moving boundaries, to unite Palestinians with Palestinians. There is something strange and self-righteously hypocritical in the reactions to Liberman’s idea. After all, border disputes are a part of national conflict, and were frequently part of the solution.

So what’s the consternation?

From those that love Israel

Gidi Grinstein, president of the Reut Institute, said this week that his institute had an idea to provide a choice to residents of the area in question. They can choose to be annexed to a future Palestinian state, a right which will be respected, or choose to stay in Israel, which will be a credit to Zionism and to the State of Israel. Such a choice will also be slaps to those who distribute fictions to the world about “Israeli apartheid”.

Lieberman raised an idea that has no hint of racism, which is supported by academics that are not suspected of a hint of racism. It is an idea that has the potential to reduce tensions. It is an idea that could enlarge a Palestinian state.

This idea must include an Israeli commitment to an unequivocal granting of equal rights for the Arab minority, most of who will continue to live in Israel. Opposition to the very idea demonstrates that the Arabs know that Israel, with all its faults, is their preferred choice of residence.

And if the idea did not come to fruition, it can actually strengthen equality because the choice of Israel will not be because of social security payments.

The choice of Israel is because it has more freedom, more rights, more democracy and greater freedom of expression. Liberman’s alternative requires reflection from the Arab side. It is legitimate to be against the idea, but it is less legitimate to choose Israel and call volunteers to army or civilian service “lepers”.

The ‘usual suspects’ will presumably continue to shout ‘transfer’ and ‘racism’ and as always this vocabulary includes, as a matter of permanence, cries of ‘fascism‘.

These hysterical reactions will come, but there is no need to be particularly alarmed. There is a necessity for a more serious discussion. Not to derail peace, but on the contrary, to strengthen it.

Ben-Dror Yemini is a lawyer, lecturer, researcher and columnist for “Maariv.” Soon to be released is his book “The Industry of Lies” published by Yediot Ahronot.

About the Author
Ben-Dror Yemini is a senior journalist with the Hebrew daily Yediot Ahronoth who lectures about the spread and impact of anti-Israel propaganda. He can be contacted at
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