Arab states unlikely to pay Israel for loss of Jewish assets

Observers said the subject of compensation for Arab Jews was meant to cancel out calls for compensation or the right of return of Palestinian refugees.
Tuesday 22/01/2019
A file photo shows Israeli Minister for Social Equality Gila Gamliel (R) in Jerusalem. (AFP)
Bargaining card. A file photo shows Israeli Minister for Social Equality Gila Gamliel (R) in Jerusalem. (AFP)

LONDON - Israel is reportedly planning to seek an estimated $250 billion from Arab countries and Iran in compensation for assets left by Jews who fled their homes in Middle Eastern countries after the founding of Israel in 1948.

The request, if it’s officially made by Israel, is unlikely to receive approval from Arab countries embroiled in economic troubles or civil strife.

Compensation is to be requested from Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Iran, said a report by private Israeli television station HaHadashot. The report added that Algeria and Lebanon, would not be asked for funds. It did not say why.

“The time has come to correct the historical injustice of the pogroms in seven Arab countries and Iran and to restore the hundreds of thousands of Jews who have lost their property to what is rightfully theirs,” Israel’s Minister for Social Equality Gila Gamliel told HaHadashot.

No Arab country has officially responded to the comments of the Israeli Minister for Social Equality.

Israel hired an unidentified international accountancy firm to calculate the value of the assets. The HaHadashot report said the compensation to Israel was meant to be part of the Middle East peace “Deal of the Century” expected to be announced by US President Donald Trump.

Israel’s demand for compensation from Arab countries as a condition to a regional peace deal is not new. A law passed by the Israeli parliament in 2010 stipulates that the government “is obligated to make sure that any negotiations for peace in the Middle East will include the subject of compensation for the Jewish refugees.”

The US House of Representatives said in 2008 that an international fund should be established to compensate both Jews and Palestinians for the loss of their property after being displaced. A similar suggestion was made by US President Bill Clinton during the Camp David peace talks in 2000.

The Palestinian Authority estimated the sum for compensating the property of Palestinian refugees who were uprooted from their homes in what is today Israel to be more than $100 billion. However, that estimate was made a decade ago and it did not negate the right of return for the 750,000 refugees or their decedents, which number more than 5 million.

Israeli figures say some 850,000 Jews were uprooted from their homes in Arab countries following the creation of Israel. However, the compensation, should it be paid, would not go directly to the those affected or to their families but rather to a special fund set up by the government, Israeli media reported.

Observers said the subject of compensation for Arab Jews was meant to cancel out calls for compensation or the right of return of Palestinian refugees.

“Some of the migrants to Israel say privately that the issue is being promoted to give Israel a bargaining card in negotiations with the Palestinians, to set against Palestinian compensation claims for property and assets left behind in what is now Israel,” reported the Times of Israel.

The Jews from Middle Eastern countries, known as Sephardic or Mizrahi Jews, have often complained of marginalisation and discrimination at the hands of European Jews in Israel.

The HaHadashot report said Israel would seek $35 billion from Tunisia and $15 billion from Libya. Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt are facing financial difficulties and are unlikely to set aside much-needed funds from their budgets to pay Israel, a country that is viewed negatively by their populations.

Libya, Syria and Yemen are involved in civil wars and their governments are not in full control of their respective territories. Iraq and Iran view Israel as an enemy state and would not voluntarily hand over funds — especially during rough economic circumstances — to Tel Aviv.

Pro-Palestinian former British lawmaker George Galloway denounced the Israeli request for compensation.

“Israel bombed and destroyed the nuclear reactors in Iraq… some 25-30 years ago. Is Iraq going to be compensated by Israel for that?” Galloway asked Russian broadcaster RT. “Israel occupied and has annexed a part of Syria — the Golan Heights — and it’s harvesting oil there as we speak. Is Israel going to compensate Syria for that?”

“It would be laughable if it were not for this fact: Some of these countries have got funds frozen in the United Sates,” said Galloway, citing Libya and Iran as examples and adding that Israel could seek to claim these funds by going to US courts.

Galloway criticised Israel for its treatment of Palestinians living under occupation as well as its rejection for the return of Palestinian refugees and their decedents. The former British member of parliament also lashed out at Israel for seeking money from Tunisia.

“Little Tunisia, one of the poorest countries in the Arab world, is being demanded $35 billion. I don’t think Tunisia has even got $35 billion,” he said.

Israeli commentators called on the Palestinians Authority to back Israel’s bid for regional compensation.

“If instead of ignoring the Jewish claims as a ploy by the Netanyahu government to cause the world to think less about Palestinian refugees, if the Palestinian Authority were to say they agreed that both sides should be compensated, it would strengthen their current shaky negotiating position,” wrote Jonathan S. Tobin in an opinion article published in Haaretz.