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Israel disgraces itself with forced relocation plan

What has happened to Israel? Just a few years ago, the idea that Arabs would be forcibly resettled was the harebrained delusion of the extreme right wing.

What has happened to Israel? Just a few years ago, the idea that Arabs would be forcibly resettled was the harebrained delusion of the extreme right wing. Now, the Israeli armed forces are training for that very contingency. 

A loyalty oath, an exclusively Jewish state, forced relocation - it is hard to ignore the strains of xenophobia and paranoia that now shape Israel's political debate. Israel's foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman has become the standard bearer for hostile diplomacy, for years advocating the resettlement of Arabs. 

Mr Lieberman's bulldog posturing has provided cover for this steady drift to the right, but he is by no means the only or even the most extreme of the ideologues.

There is so much at stake, and so many grievances, involved in Middle East peace that it is imperative to avoid inflammatory rhetoric. Unfortunately, this proposal fits a 1993 United Nations definition of ethnic cleansing: "The planned deliberate removal from a specific territory, persons of a particular ethnic group, by force or intimidation, in order to render that area ethnically homogenous." While Israeli Jews are not ethnically homogenous, a plan to target Arabs specifically because of their race should make every citizen ashamed.

Also troubling is the timing. Direct peace talks are on the brink of collapse and Benjamin Netanyahu's government seems determined to push the Palestinians still further. Israel's negotiating strategy has consistently been the bait and switch, demanding that Palestinians make permanent concessions with far-reaching consequences in return for temporary settlement "freezes", when building continues anyway. The United States' quick endorsement of the "Jewish state" at this juncture has further undermined its credibility as a mediator.

Palestinian negotiators quite rightly ask what the borders would be. "We want to know whether this state includes our lands and houses in the West Bank and east Jerusalem," said Yasser Abed Rabbo on Wednesday. At this point, it seems Israel is poised to proclaim swathes of illegally occupied West Bank territory as exclusively Jewish. 

All of this may seem like the hard-nosed negotiations that Mr Netanyahu promised his constituents. But what this government cannot seem to realise is that piling injustice upon injustice will never provide for Israel's future or regional stability. Even if Israel provokes an international crisis by relocating Arabs, the legitimate demands of Palestinians cannot be denied by force.

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