For fifty years while Palestinian refugees were drumming up their right of return to their homes and their right for compensation in accordance with UN security council resolution 242 and 338, claims by Jewish refugees from Arab countries fell on deaf ears. Even WOJAC, the world organisation of Jews from Arab countries, which was established with so much fanfare some thirty years ago, turned out to be no more than a tool in the hands of the Israeli government in an attempt to bury the rights of Jewish refugees as a way of cancelling Palestinian claims.
But now with America getting more and more involved in the Middle East peace process, plans for establishing an international fund to pay compensation to both Jews and Palestinians are being talked about quite seriously.
President Clinton has said in an interview on Israeli Television that the failed Camp David summit, at least brought good news for the more than 580,000 Jews who immigrated to Israel from Arab countries. Palestinian negotiators agreed that these Jewish refugees should be compensated for the property they left behind or were forced to give up, he said, apparently by a kind of international fund suggested in Clinton's remarks.
Now the cat is out of the cellophane bag. If the compensation is forthcoming, it could help the Israeli government sell a peace deal package to voters of Middle Eastern and North African origin, who are a slight majority among Israelis. They are also largely right-wing and usually suspicious of prospective agreements with Arabs. "It will be very important", says Justice Minister Yossi Beilin. "It could help people accept the agreement. It would be something tangible."
Jews all over the Arab world faced persecution, fear and anti-Semitic attacks after the establishment of Israel in 1948. Community ties that were 2,000 years old packed up en-masse in the following few years and moved to Israel. Some of the expulsions were accompanied by government seizures of property, from the Iraqi regime in 1951 to Muammar Gaddafi's Libya in 1972.
It is clear, therefore, that the promise of compensation is no more than a carrot, a bribe, dangled in front of Mizrahi Jews to enable them to swallow the bitter pill of the peace process now being negotiated, after which the Arabs will keep asking for more and more.
Where did Israel go wrong? Since the establishment of the State in 1948, Israel fought several major wars not with the Palestinians but with the neighbouring Arab countries. There can be no lasting peace in the Middle East unless all these Arab countries are dragged to the conference table and made to bear their share of a peace settlement.
Old Yemtob in Baghdad had a cock who used to perch on a high wall and crow loudly in the early morning. His owner used to remonstrate with him saying "Lo beek khair unzel Jawa" meaning "if you are brave come down and shout". Mubarak and Assad, Fahad and Saddam, Gaddafi and Lebanon are all prompting Arafat not to soften his demands. They should all be made to take part in the sacrifices that have to be made in achieving a just and lasting peace.
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