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Behind the Headlines: Taboo Subjects of ‘transfer’ and PLO Dialogue Bandied About

With the intifada entering its fourth year and the peace process apparently at an impasse, Israeli politicians are beginning to speak openly of solutions to the Palestinian problem that were once beyond the fringes of respectability.

There is talk of “transfer,” a euphemism for the mass expulsion of Arabs from the Israeli-administered territories, if not Israel proper.

The concept, once taboo, was the line taken by the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, the assassinated leader of the extremist Kach movement who was ousted from the Knesset when his party was declared racist.

The idea has been advocated in a more genteel fashion by Rehavam Ze’evi of the Moledet party.

But now it is being heard on the mainstream right and is no longer the mark of the “extremist” or “fanatic.”

According to a just-published survey by respected pollster Hanoch Smith, 49 percent of Israel’s Jews now favor expelling the Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, should no peaceful solution be found, The New York Times reported Monday.

The Times compared this finding with one made 20 months ago by Smith in which 38 percent of Israeli Jews favored transfer.

However, Smith also found that 25 percent of Israeli Jews are ready to accept the establishment of a Palestinian entity, the weekly Jerusalem Report said last week.

The idea of negotiations with the Palestine Liberation Organization, once anathema to all but members of the farthest left part of the political spectrum, is now being advocated by members of the Labor Party.

The proponents of such talks are from Labor’s dovish wing, to be sure. But until recently, no Laborite would suggest talks with the PLO for fear of being labeled a communist.

The “transfer” doctrine was discussed Sunday by Geula Cohen, deputy minister of science and energy and a veteran Knesset member of the Tehiya party.

‘TRANSFER’ REMARKS DISAVOWED

Cohen denied emphatically that transfer is part of Tehiya’s political platform. She insisted, in fact, that the party opposed it and considered it an entirely impractical solution.

Cohen was commenting on remarks over the weekend by Science and Energy Minister Yuval Ne’eman, the Tehiya party leader, which sounded to some like an endorsement of transfer.

Cohen admitted, moreover, that some members of her party — its spokesman Avi Farhan, for one — want Tehiya to incorporate transfer in its election platform.

Not too long ago, a party like Tehiya would have been embarrassed to admit publicly that any of its members thought in those terms. Cohen insisted that it would not even be debated in the party’s policy forums.

Nevertheless, Ne’eman recalled that some 700,000 Palestinians fled the country between 1948 and 1949, during and after Israel’s War for Independence. He implied strongly that if Palestinians in the territories and in Israel do not behave, they might meet a similar fate.

Officials here assured reporters that Ne’eman’s remarks did not reflect government policy. Several ministers dissociated themselves from their implications.

Health Minister Ehud Olmert of Likud, for instance, told reporters that the Cabinet is totally opposed to the idea of transfer on both ideological and practical grounds.

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