Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who hopes to become prime minister after February elections, on Friday ruled out the expulsion of Arab-Israelis after a Palestinian state is created.
"The national aspirations (of the Arabs) should be realized elsewhere, but there is no question of carrying out a transfer or forcing them to leave," she told public radio.
"I am willing to give up a part of the country over which I believe we have rights so that Israel will remain a Jewish and democratic state in which citizens have equal rights, whatever their religion," she said in reference to the creation of a Palestinian state.
On Thursday, Livni drew criticism for saying Israeli-Arabs who had national aspirations should move to a Palestinian state when it is established.
"My solution for maintaining a Jewish and democratic state of Israel is to have two distinct national entities," she told a group of secondary school students in Tel Aviv in remarks broadcast by army radio.
"And among other things I will also be able to approach the Palestinian residents of Israel, those whom we call Arab Israelis, and tell them: ‘your national aspirations lie elsewhere.’"
Arab Heads Irked
Livni leads the centrist Kadima party. She is in a close race with former premier Benjamin Netanyahu of the right-wing Likud party ahead of legislative elections set for February 10.
The polls were called after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert resigned over a series of graft scandals.
The 1.4-million-strong Arab-Israeli community makes up about 20 percent of the Jewish state’s population, and consists of the descendants of the 160,000 Palestinians who remained on their land after the creation of Israel in 1948.
The remarks drew an angry rebuttal from Arab Israeli MP Ahmed Tibi and from the Palestinian Authority of president Mahmud Abbas.
"She must decide whether she means to leave a million Arabs without political rights or a national identity, or whether she really intends to transfer a million Arab citizens to the Palestinian state that will be established," he said.
"Livni must be straightforward and open as is appropriate for someone running for prime minister," Tibi told army radio.
Palestinian presidency spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina told AFP Livni’s remarks "put obstacles on the way of the peace process and will not lead to a peace agreement and a just and comprehensive solution."
"These statements don’t serve the cause of peace or efforts being made to reach a comprehensive peace in the region. They show that Israel is not serious about a solution or the negotiations with the Palestinians," he said.
"The way to peace is by respecting international legislation. The Israeli election campaign should not be exploited to create tensions," Abu Rudeina added by telephone from Amman.
"No such thing as Palestinians"
Meanwhile, a far-right Likud party member is troubling Netanyahu’s bid for prime minister as media reprinted comments he made praising the Nazi system and demeaning Arabs.
Moshe Feiglin, 46, had a strong chance of winning a parliamentary seat after gaining significant support within Likud, at a time when Netanyahu is seeking to soften the image of the right-wing opposition party.
But Likud’s governing body on Thursday pushed Feiglin down to the 36th place on the election slate from the 20th slot following an appeal by a Netanyahu ally citing irregularities in Monday’s party primary.
The support that Feiglin and other far right-wing Likud members won at a party election to name parliamentary candidates for February’s legislative elections was a sharp blow for Netanyahu, a former prime minister.
To make matters worse for the party leader, the Israeli media has since highlighted comments Feiglin made in a 1995 interview with the Haaretz daily, in which he spoke highly of Hitler and disapprovingly of Arabs.
An observant yarmulke-wearing Jew, Feiglin called the man responsible for the Holocaust, Adolf Hitler, "an unparalleled military genius."
Feiglin, who lives in a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank, has made similarly controversial comments on the Arab-Israeli conflict.
He insists there is no such thing as a Palestinian people and that they and Israeli Arabs should relocate, media said, citing a text he had posted on the website of his "Jewish leadership" movement that was removed this week.
"They will have to seek the right to self-determination in Arab states. Israel will encourage the Arabs to emigrate to their countries and assist any Arab who wishes to do so," Feiglin was quoted as saying.
"Arabs don’t live in the desert, they create it," he was quoted as saying in 2004.
Netanyahu, who is viewed as a hawk with regard to the conflict, tried to put on a brave face following Feiglin’s success in Monday’s party election.
(Alarabiya.net and AFP)