One of the more recent hot points in the Middle East peace process has been the issue of “mutually agreed-upon swaps” between Israel and the Palestinians. The concept is simple — albeit controversial. It is that Israeli’s pre-1967 borders should serve as a starting point in final status negotiations over the creation of a Palestinian state, and that any addition of territory in the West Bank be balanced out by Israel ceding parts of its own country to the Palestinians. This is certainly a reasonable plan. The problem is, it has not been made clear exactly who will be making these mutual agreements.
It is assumed that these swaps would involve the State of Israel incorporating the many Jewish suburbs of Jerusalem located beyond the 1967 borders in exchange for ceding territory in the “Arab Triangle,” a heavily Arab area in Israel located adjacent to the Green Line. While this has a certain logic, no one seems to have asked Israeli Arabs whether they wish to be transferred to a Palestinian state. In fact, poll numbers show many are happy where they are; in December, 58 percent of Israeli Arabs were against being shifted into a new Palestinian state.
It’s not hard to understand why: Israeli Arabs in the Arab Triangle enjoy a much higher standard of living than their compatriots on the other side of the Green Line. Israel is a first world country, while the West Bank is not even a country at all; blue-collar Arab laborers in Tel Aviv earn a lot more than white-collar professionals in Ramallah. However, Israeli Arabs do face a certain degree of discrimination and, for obvious reasons, might not want to live in a country that defines itself as a Jewish state. However, that is a choice they should make for themselves, and not one that should be made by diplomats around tables in Washington or Geneva.
Instead, mutually agreed-upon swaps should be changed to mutually agreed-upon referendums. No community that wants to live in Israel should be forced to live in a Palestinian state (or vice versa). Instead, territorial swaps should be made conditional on what the residents affected want. The creation of the State of Israel was marked by refugees — both those coming from Europe in the aftermath of the Holocaust and those Palestinians fleeing from the frontlines of the 1948 war. In finally creating a Palestinian state, care should be taken to insure that as many people as possible, both Jewish and Arab, can remain in their own homes as citizens of the country of their choice.