A recent Foreign Ministry report has recommended raising the issue of Jewish refugees in every round of future peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians or the Arab League.
The Jewish refugees referred to in the report are Jews who fled from Arab nations in 1948 and were forced to leave their possessions behind before arriving in the newly established state of Israel.
This issue aims to counter the Palestinian Right of Return, under which the Palestinians wish to compel Israel to absorb Palestinian refugees and restore the property they left behind when they were forced to flee during the 1948 Independence War and in the Six-Day War in 1967.
The report, commissioned by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, includes recommendations for rehabilitating Palestinian refugees where they currently reside, much like Israel rehabilitated Jews who fled from Arab countries.
According to the report: “The phenomenon of perpetuating the refugee condition must end immediately; rehabilitating the refugees inside their destination countries will help reduce the demand for the Right of Return during core issue peace talks. Regardless, the Right of Return that many (Palestinian) refugees insist upon is to be granted on the condition they return only to within the borders of the future Palestinian state, which would be created as a result of a peace agreement.”
The Foreign Ministry report also recommended raising the issue of compensation for Jewish refugees from Arab countries within the framework of future peace talks. The compensation would be provided through an international fund, which would be established in accordance with proposals from former U.S. President Bill Clinton in 2000 and the U.S. Congress in 2008. This fund would aid in rehabilitating refugees where they currently reside, including retroactively assisting countries that have already invested in rehabilitating refugees, such as Israel and Jordan. The fund would also deal with the considerable amounts of Jewish property in Arab countries. To promote these issues Ayalon has planned a public diplomacy campaign, which is to include aiding like-minded non-governmental organizations.
The report further states that 856,000 Jews from Arab countries were uprooted from their homes, compared to 800,000 Arabs from Israel (within the Green Line). Ayalon explained that approximately half of Israel’s citizens have parents or grandparents who came from Arab countries. Therefore, within the framework of possible future peace negotiations, all aspects of these issues must be addressed. Meanwhile, Jewish property in Arab countries is estimated to be worth tens of billions of dollars.
The matter has received high-level political support thus far. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said recently that the refugee issue needed to be “offset.” Netanyahu also said that “either way, an equal number of Jewish refugees were expelled from Arab countries. We absorbed them and didn’t turn them into an excuse for perpetual conflict.” The prime minister added that “the reason for the conflict is not the refugees, because attacks against Jews began in Jaffa in 1920, years before there were refugees in 1948. The reason [for the conflict] is the lack of Arab willingness to recognize the existence of a Jewish state.”