In any serious discussion of Israeli-Palestinian peace, three elements invariably come up: the final status of Jerusalem, Israeli settlements on the West Bank and the Palestinian right of return.
Leaving aside for the moment the fact that there currently seems to be no serious diplomatic effort to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace, the right of return remains a particularly problematic issue.
Not necessarily because a Palestinian right of return should not be considered, but because of the fact that the debate about it is so absolutely one-sided.
Whatever right of return the Palestinian people are entitled to, and whatever solution is found to address that issue, a glaring unanswered question remains: What about the Jewish right of return?
No, were not talking about the right of Jews to return to pre-state Palestine nor are we talking about their right to return to their pre-war homes in Arab countries but the fact remains that more than 800,000 Jews either were officially evicted from their homes in Arab nations or were forced to flee persecution when Israel became a state in 1948.
None of them were compensated for the property and assets they left behind in places like Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Tunisia, where many Jewish communities had flourished for centuries.
They are refugees that is to say, people forcibly expelled from their homes and homelands no less than, and in many cases even more than, the Palestinians who fled their homes in the land that became Israel in 1948 some of them voluntarily.
Read related news coverage, “Jewish refugees from Arab countries push for recognition“
These Jewish refugees are no less entitled to compensation than any other refugees, including Palestinians. Although their right of return is moot (since anti-Semitism in virtually all Arab countries today seems no less virulent than it was in 1948), their rights as exiles are no less legitimate than anyone elses.
Strangely, this issue has never been seriously raised in any Israeli-Palestinian negotiations; it has never been included in the big three issues delineated above; and it remains virtually unknown in the media and diplomatic fora of the world.
For all of these reasons, it was heartening to learn this week that the World Jewish Congress, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Israeli Foreign Ministry plan to host a conference on this issue later this month at the UN.
Its about time for this largely forgotten issue to show up on the international radar. It must become an integral part of any conversation between Israelis and Palestinians in their quest for reconciliation.
Copyright © 2012 by the Intermountain Jewish News