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Arab Israelis Oppose Coming Under Palestinian Rule as Israel Weighs Land Swap

A land swap between Israelis and Palestinians is one possible element of an eventual Middle East peace deal. Right-wing members of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's governing coalition have been calling for a deal in which some Arab communities now inside Israel would be handed over to the Palestinian Authority, in exchange for some Jewish settlements in the West Bank becoming part of Israel. The proposal is not getting widespread support on either side.

A worker cuts a slab of Palestinian-style candy at the Jabarin family's candy factory in Umm al-Fahm, a town of more than 40,000 people in northern Israel. Sales are brisk, with most of the product going to Jewish Israeli customers.

Ramez Jabarin works at the factory, which was founded by his father. He dreads the prospect of having his town and his family's factory turned over to Palestinian control. Speaking in Hebrew, he says he fears that Israeli border restrictions would mean a loss of freedom.

"Big prison"

He says residents of the West Bank territory cannot go to neighboring Jordan in many cases and cannot freely go into Israel. If Umm al-Fahm becomes part of the West Bank, he says he will live a completely different reality like a big prison.

Jabarin is a member of Israel's more than a million strong Arab minority. His family was among the Palestinians who remained on their lands after the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.

Being shut out of Israel and subjected to checkpoints would hurt business for Arabs like Jabarin and his family.

It would also mean diminishing their presence and influence in this land, where Arabs outnumbered Jews by two to one before 1948. Some Palestinians dream of getting all the land back one day.

Land swap

Israeli right wing politicians are pushing for a land swap partly out of concern that Arabs - who have a higher birth rate - may one day overwhelm the Jewish population.

Under such a deal, Israel would annex some West Bank Jewish settlements but also evacuate some of them.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has for years pushed for a swap. He says he would be willing to evacuate his own home at the West Bank settlement of Nokdim, near Bethlehem, for a peace deal.

Nokdim residents like Itzik Cohen are not ready to follow. He says his place is here. Cohen says past experience has shown that Israeli disengagement from the settlements will not be successful, and he says it will lead to nothing. He hopes and believes he and his family will not have to move from the settlement.

Some Arab Israelis complain of discrimination by the Jewish State, but still favor staying under Israeli rule because they have business opportunities in the country's strong economy, and access to education, health, and other welfare benefits that are available to all Israeli citizens.

At the Jabarin's candy factory, the owner, 70-year-old Mahmoud Jabarin, says it makes no difference to him whether a land swap takes place. He has Israeli citizenship, but considers himself a Palestinian living on Palestinian land.

He says that if the Israelis listened to him, he would tell them that they would be exchanging Palestinian land for Palestinian land.

Settling the matter of borders is one of many points of contention facing peace negotiators.

For the people of Umm al-Fahm, the future looks as uncertain as ever.