With the Palestinian refugee issue one of the core issues expected to be at the center of the US's new diplomatic push, the foreign ministry is actively engaged in an effort to ensure that Jewish refuges who fled Arab lands are not forgotten.

Deputy Foreign Ministry Danny Ayalon, who is leading the push to include Jewish refugees in the core issue discussion with the US about refugees, said "it is vitally important to return this issue to the international agenda. It is a matter of justice, closure and righting a wrong."

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Ayalon, whose father came to Israel after being forced out of Algeria, said this issue has "a practical as well as a moral aspect. The demands from the two sides are asymmetrical, the Palestinians talk of rights and justice [for Palestinian refugees], yet the rights and justice of the Jewish refugees from Arab lands have been ignored and suppressed for too long. "

In an article Ayalon wrote in September in The Jerusalem Post entitled "I am a refugee," Ayalon said that while some 750,000 Arabs fled or left Mandatory Palestine, there were some 900,000 Jewish refugees from Arab lands.

"We are going to make an effort now to bring to the forefront the plight of the Jews from the Arab countries,” he said.

The foreign ministry, in an effort to place this issue high on the international agenda, has appointed an official to coordinate the matter.  He has met over the last few weeks with historical and legal experts, and is preparing a detailed position paper that will be entered into the discussion on the refugee issue.

“We will make sure that this will be an important and integral part of the negotiations for a final settlement," Ayalon said. "Just as the Arab refugees is an issue, so is the Jewish refugees.”

The Foreign Ministry recently sent a cable to all Israel's representations abroad calling on the country's envoys to bring the issue up with the leadership in the capitals where they are serving.

Diplomatic officials said the reason for raising the issue is not necessarily to receive compensation for the Jews who left the Arab countries, though this could be a factor when the Palestinians demand reparations from Israel for Palestinian refugees, but rather to seek redress, and an acknowledgement by the world that in 1948 there was not only a Palestinian refugee issue, but a second one, involving Jews who – unlike the Palestinians – were fully absorbed.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has made clear that the core issues he believes should be addressed first in the indirect talks being conducted by the US are refugees, recognition of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, and security. The Palestinians, however want to focus first on borders and Jerusalem.

Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report


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