Israel's Foreign Minister Wants to Pay Israeli Arabs to Leave

Avigdor Lieberman puts forth a controversial proposal to "resolve this issue of divided loyalties" for the country's Palestinian citizens.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman speaks during a news conference in Berlin in June (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

Last week, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved draft legislation to amend the country's Basic Law to declare that Israel is "the national homeland of the Jewish people" instead of a "Jewish and democratic state," as it had been since the state's founding in 1948, he had to tamp down criticism that the law codifies discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel—20 percent of the country's population.

"There are those who would like the democratic to prevail over the Jewish and there are those who would like the Jewish to prevail over the democratic," said Netanyahu. "Both of these values are equal and both must be considered to the same degree."

However, if there are any questions as to whether or not some within the Israeli government do not want Arab citizens of Israel to remain within the country's borders, one need not look further than Netanyahu's cabinet. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Friday published an updated platform for his ultranationalist party, Yisrael Beiteinu, which includes a "peace plan" that calls on the government to encourage Israeli Arabs to leave the country by offering them "economic incentives" when—and, indeed, if—a Palestinian state becomes a reality.

Lieberman repeated his proposal for land and population swaps between Israel and a future Palestinian state, but took it a step further by encouraging Israel to pay Arab citizens of Israel to move—those "who feel that they are part of the Palestinian people, to resolve this issue of duality and divided loyalties from which they are suffering," adding, "Israel should even encourage them with economic incentives."

"As for Israeli Arabs, any agreement must include a plan for territorial and population exchange," wrote Lieberman in the new platform. "An arrangement of this kind with the Palestinian state will allow Israeli Arabs who do not identify with the State of Israel to become part of the Palestinian state."

Some in Israeli politics say this is nothing more than political tactics ahead of anticipated forthcoming elections. Zahava Gal-On, chairwoman of the left-wing Meretz party, responded to Lieberman's platform change, saying that election panic had driven the foreign minister to a "populist, shady and irresponsible plan that encourages the transfer [of Israeli Arabs] and only fans flames on the ground."

However, Lieberman has routinely made similar comments since coming into the public spotlight in a variety of ministerial roles more than a decade ago. He regularly calls for the requirement of Israeli Arabs to sign a "loyalty oath" or lose their right to vote. In 2006, he described Arab members of the Knesset who met with Hamas members of the Palestinian Authority as "terror collaborators" and called for their execution: "World War II ended with the Nuremberg Trials. The heads of the Nazi regime, along with their collaborators, were executed. I hope this will be the fate of the collaborators in [the Knesset]."

"I’ve always been controversial because I offer new ideas," Lieberman once told The New York Times. "For me to be controversial, I think this is positive."