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Friedman denies seeking to strip Palestinians of citizenship as protests swell

US ambassador to Israel tells Middle East Eye Trump is seeking to create one nation-state for Jews, another for Palestinians
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedmam (AFP)

US Ambassador David Friedman on Wednesday refuted suggestions that a mooted land swap is an effort to rid Israel of its Palestinian citizens, as protests against his country's Middle East plan grew.

US President Donald Trump unveiled his long-delayed scheme to address the Israel-Palestine conflict on Tuesday, much to the chargin of Palestinians and their supporters.

Among the controversial ideas mooted was a land swap that would see arid areas of the Negev desert near the Egyptian border and the "northern triangle" ceded to a future Palestinian state. The area includes Kafr Qara, Arara, Baha al-Gharbiyye, Umm al-Fahm, Qalansawe, Tayibe, Kafr Qasim, Tira, Kafr Bara and Jaljulia.

'The offer to swap away towns in Israel that are populated with Palestinian citizens of Israel proves the racist apartheid nature of this plan'

- Omar Baddar, activist

Around a third of Israel’s population of Palestinian citizens of Israel can be found in the triangle: as many as 350,000 in total. It is also largely Muslim, and Umm al-Fahm is an Islamic Movement stronghold.

Speaking to Middle East Eye, Friedman said it was "just not true" that Trump's scheme sought to strip Palestinians in Israel of their citizenship.

"The idea was to more carefully align territorially the populations between the Palestinians and the Israelis. As we said, we're trying to create a nation-state for the Jewish people and a nation-state for the Palestinian people," Friedman said.

He added that no one is proposing stripping Palestinian-Israelis of their citizenship against their will.

"I'm not an expert on Israeli law, but I would assume that would violate the law as well," the ambassador to Israel said.

"This is a territorial reallocation. It is not intended - certainly not by us and I don't believe by Israel - not intended to affect anybody's citizenship. If there were interest in it, I would suspect that it would be a lengthy legal discussion to have it implemented."

Yousef Jabareen, a Palestinian member of the Israeli parliament, disagreed. He told MEE that it was part of a plan to strip Palestinians of their rights and remove their voice from Israel's parliament, the Knesset.

World reacts to Donald Trump's Israel-Palestine plan
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"Israel's far-right government is out of control," he said. "Every Arab citizen is in existential danger in our homeland."

Jabareen, who is from Umm al-Fahm, said it was part of a broader scheme by Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to clear Israel of its Palestinian citizens.

"The plan lays the groundwork for population transfer and the revocation of Palestinians' citizenship," he warned.

Omar Baddar, deputy director of the Arab American Institute, a Washington-based advocacy group, agreed.

"The offer to swap away towns in Israel that are populated with Palestinian citizens of Israel proves the racist apartheid nature of this plan, which views people of Palestinian ethnicity as undesirable," he told MEE.

He said that Israel's willingness to swap the Palestinian villages exposes its "sham" claim that the occupation is needed for security reasons.

"The goal for Israel has always been to maximize the acquisition of Palestinian lands and minimize the number of Palestinians on that land, in an attempt to create an exclusivist ethno-religious state at the expense of indigenous Palestinians," he said.

Roiling protests

Thousands of protesters took to the streets in various parts of Palestinian territories and the Jordanian capital Amman in reaction to the plan's formal roll-out.

The "FreePalestine" hashtag also became the top world trend on Twitter.

While the president touted his plan as a historic opportunity to achieve peace between Palestinians and Israel, many critics poured scorn on the plan that has been rejected by Palestinians. 

The proposal, which was drafted without the input of any Palestinian groups, allows Israel to keep all of its settlements in the West Bank and annex large parts of the Palestinian territories that it currently occupies.

While Trump has floated his proposal as a "realistic two-state solution", the plan itself says a Palestinian state - if it materialises - will be demilitarised and without sovereignty over its air space and territorial waters.

Done deal: How the peace process sold out the Palestinians

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Done deal: How the peace process sold out the Palestinians
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Middle East Eye's "Done Deal" series examines how many of the elements of US President Donald Trump's so-called "deal of the century" reflect a reality that already exists on the ground.

It looks at how Palestinian territory has already been effectively annexed, why refugees have no realistic prospect of ever returning to their homeland, how the Old City of Jerusalem is under Israeli rule, how financial threats and incentives are used to undermine Palestinian opposition to the status quo, and how Gaza is kept under a state of permanent siege.

Commenting on Trump's plan, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, said: "The so-called 'Vision for Peace' is simply the dream project of a bankruptcy-ridden real estate developer. 

"But it is a nightmare for the region and the world. And, hopefully, a wake-up call for all the Muslims who have been barking up the wrong tree."

In Ramallah, more than 1,000 people of all ages and genders gathered at Manara circle late on Tuesday to protest against the plan, before marching to the grave of Yasser Arafat.

Carrying posters and photos of Arafat and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the crowd called for reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas in order to present a united front against the Trump administration. 

"The Americans are not a fair arbiter," Tamer, a 17-year-old from Ramallah, told Middle East Eye as the crowd chanted slogans against the US and Israel.

"There is no justice. This plan is a plan for Israel. 

"We will do everything in our power to stop this plan from being implemented. We are hurting, we are devastated, but we are carrying on. We will continue to demand our rights to live in dignity and freedom."