Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said Tuesday that former prime minister
Ariel Sharon sent him on a secret mission 10 years ago to discuss the Saudi
peace initiative with the Kingdom’s representatives, but that they refused to
Ayalon’s comments came at a Foreign Ministry conference
announcing a new ministry initiative to put the issue of Jewish refugees high on
the international agenda.
Ayalon, who was Sharon’s foreign policy adviser
at the time when the Saudi proposal was publicized a decade ago this week, said
he was sent to meet his Saudi counterpart Adel Al-Jubeir, who today is the
Kingdom’s ambassador to Washington. Al-Jubeir refused to meet him, Ayalon
The deputy foreign minister angrily dismissed comments from someone
in the audience who said Israel never gave the Saudi initiative a chance. Ayalon
said the problem with the initiative was that it was a presented as a
take-it-or-leave-it proposal, and not something that could be
During the conference, Ayalon said the Foreign Ministry had
directed its ambassadors and representatives abroad to raise with their host
governments the issue of approximately 850,000 Jewish refugees who were forced
to flee Arab and Middle Eastern countries following Israel’s independence in
1948. Of those refugees, some 650,000 were absorbed in Israel.
said that raising the issue served a number of purposes.
said, it was an attempt to redress a historic wrong. Secondly, it will ensure
that Israel documents claims from the first generation of refugees, a generation
slowly disappearing. Another goal, he said, was to ensure that when the refugee
issue comes up in any final negotiations, all immigrants – Muslim, Christian and
Jewish – will be treated equally.
Ayalon said that the meeting in the
Foreign Ministry – attended by leaders of various organizations representing
Jews who fled Arab lands – was being held 64 years too late, but was still
One of the speakers at the event, former ambassador Zvi Gabay,
of the World Organization of Iraqi Jewry, said that Israeli governments were
historically reticent about discussing the issue for fear that if Israel brought
up Jewish refugees, the Arabs would bring up the issue of Palestinian
One participant said Israel was taking the initiative on the
issue now as a counteroffensive to what is expected to be a new Palestinian
statehood push at the UN in the coming months. The point, the official said, was
to show that Israel has claims and rights of its own that it could take to
international forums as well.
Ayalon said this issue should be raised in
every peace negotiation framework, regardless of whether the interlocutors were
the Palestinians or Arab governments. He said that during peace negotiations
financial compensation for both Jewish and Arab refugees should be
Ayalon said a true solution to the issue of the refugees could
only be possible when the Arab League took the historic responsibility for its
role in creating both the Arab and Jewish refugee problem.
responsible for the Arab refugee problem, he said, by calling on Arabs to leave
Israel and pave the way for the invading forces of seven Arab countries in 1948,
and they were responsible for the Jewish refugee problem by kicking 850,000 Jews
out of Arab lands where they lived for hundreds, and even thousands, of years.