Disregarding the rights of Jews from Arab lands represents short-term thinking and a disrespect for Israeli law. That's why Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni's objections to a clause addressing the issue of compensation for Jews from Arab Countries in US secretary of State John Kerry's framework peace agreement must be overriden, argues Adi Schwartz in Haaretz (with thanks: Lily):
U.S. media reported over the weekend that in Secretary of State John Kerry’s pending framework agreement, the administration is considering adding a clause to address the issue of compensation for the tens of thousands of Jews forced to abandon their homes and assets in the Arab lands where they had lived. Peace process envoy Martin Indyk told American Jewish leaders that there is no final decision yet on the matter, but that it could be an important step toward recognizing the rights of these Jews, which the international community and Israeli society neglected for decades.
But surprisingly enough, it’s the chief Israeli negotiator, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who opposes including such a clause in the Kerry document. Livni believes that the financial claims of Jews who were expelled from Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Syria and other countries have nothing to do with the bilateral negotiations with the Palestinians, and must be dealt with in talks with the Arab countries. This was also her position several years ago, when she was negotiating with the Palestinians on behalf of Ehud Olmert’s government. She refused to raise the issue, claiming there was no chance that a demand for compensation would be accepted, and no point in putting any unnecessary spokes in the wheels of the peace process.
But this is a mistaken approach. It represents short-term thinking and a disregard for Israeli law. It’s immoral and in the end, wastes an enormous opportunity to achieve understanding and closer ties between Palestinians and Israelis. Even if Kerry’s framework agreement doesn’t lead to a peace treaty, such a clause could have a very positive impact on the chances of reaching an agreement in the future.
Historically, the Jews who lived in Arab lands paid a heavy price for the Arab world’s refusal to recognize the State of Israel when it was founded. The countries that expelled their Jews were the same countries that invaded Israel immediately after it declared independence. The reason given for the expulsion was the founding of the State of Israel. How, then, can one say that there is no connection? There is no Israeli-Palestinian conflict that isn’t part of the larger Israeli-Arab conflict. As such, the solution also has to be comprehensive, in the form of an international fund of the type suggested by former U.S. President Bill Clinton in 2000, from which both the Palestinian refugees and the Jews forced out of Arab lands would be compensated.
The Knesset recognized the issue when in 2010 it enacted a law under which the government is obliged to include “the issue of compensation for loss of property to Jewish refugees from Arab countries” when conducting peace talks. How is it that the justice minister, who is charged with upholding state law, is ignoring this legislation?
But putting the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab lands on the agenda may make an even more profound contribution, because it would put the two decades of the Palestinian peace talks’ various permutations on a much healthier footing. Instead of the Palestinians seeing themselves as the ultimate victims and Israel as a state born in sin, highlighting the history of Jews in Arab countries will remind everyone that the essence of the Zionist enterprise was not dispossessing the Palestinians from their land, but realizing the concept of self-determination for a people that had been subject to oppression and humiliation.
The Palestinian narrative still sees the State of Israel as a foreign and unjust entity, and only the understanding that half of Israel’s residents were displaced from their native countries may lead to acceptance of Israel’s existence. A peace agreement that would end the conflict is not just a collection of legal clauses, but also an expression of recognition and reconciliation between the narratives of both sides – and only knowledge of the history of Jews in Arab countries can make this possible.
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