The government needs to bring up the issue of hundreds of thousands of Jews who left their homes in Arab countries following the establishment of the State of Israel as part of any future peace agreement with the Palestinians, the president of the World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries said Thursday.
About 850,000 Jews fled Arab countries after Israel's founding in 1948, leaving behind assets valued today at more than $300 billion, said Heskel M. Haddad.
He added that the New York-based organization has decades-old property deeds of Jews from Arab countries on a total area of 100,000 sq.km. - which is five times the size of the State of Israel.
Most of the properties are located in Iraq, Egypt and Morocco, Haddad said.
The Baghdad-born Haddad fled Iraq in 1951, and, after a brief stop in Israel, made his way to the United States where he went on to become a prominent New York ophthalmologist.
In an interview, he said that it was imperative for Israel to bring up the issue of the Jews who fled Arab countries at any future peace talks - including those scheduled to take place in Annapolis in the coming weeks - since no Palestinian leader would sign a peace treaty without resolving the issue of Palestinian refugees.
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians - with estimates ranging from 400,000 to 750,000 - left Israeli-controlled territory in 1948 and 1949, and they, along with their millions of descendants, make up one of the prickliest issues to be dealt with by Israeli and Palestinian negotiators as part of any resolution to the conflict.
Haddad said that the key to resolving the issue rested with the Arab League, which in the 1950s passed a resolution stating that no Arab government would grant citizenship to Palestinian refugees, keeping them in limbo for over half a century.
At the same time, the Arab League urged Arab governments to facilitate the exit of Jews from Arab countries, a resolution which was carried out with a series of punitive measures and discriminatory decrees making it untenable for the Jews to stay in the countries.
"No Jews from Arab countries would give up their property and home and come to Israel out of Zionism," Haddad said.
He said that the Israeli government was "myopic" not to utilize this little-known information, which he said should be part of a package financial solution to solving the issue of Palestinian refugees.
An Israeli ministerial committee on claims for Jewish property in Arab countries, which is currently headed by the Pensioners Minister Rafi Eitan, has been virtually dormant since it was established four years ago.