Libya secretly offered to give Israelis of Libyan descent an undisclosed sum of money if they agreed to form a “Libyan political party,” the leader of a Jewish group told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.

Meir Kahlon, chairman of the World Organization of Libyan Jews, said that between 2005 and 2007, he and two other members of his organization had secretly traveled to Amman to meet with a representative of the Libyan government over the unresolved issue of Jewish assets in the North African country.

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“He said that they could not give us money directly because we live in Israel, but they were willing to give us money if we were to form a Libyan political party,” said Kahlon, who lives in the Tel Aviv suburb of Or Yehuda.

“He didn’t say how much, and I can’t tell you the name of the official, but the offer was on the table.”

For decades, the Jewish Libyan diaspora, which numbers up to 200,000 people who reside mostly in Israel and Italy, has been demanding compensation for property its members had to leave behind when they either fled or were expelled from that country in a series of waves beginning in the 1940s. Tripoli has ignored repeated compensation requests by individuals and organizations representing the community.

A 2005 meeting between Kahlon’s group and the Libyan Foreign Ministry official was set up through an Israeli Arab lawmaker and was the first of its kind. It raised hopes that compensation for Libyan Jews might be obtained, and the parties met twice more in Jordan in 2006 and 2007.

“I was told by the Libyan official that it was Seif al-Islam Gaddafi’s birthday and that he liked Zahava Ben,” Kahlon recalled, referring to the Israeli singer, who sings in the Middle Eastern musical genre, and sometimes in Arabic. “So next time we met, I brought one of her albums and gave it to the Libyan official to pass on.”

At their third and final meeting in 2007, the Libyan official, who said he was in close contact with the Libyan leadership, proposed the formation of an Israeli Libyan political party as a way of bypassing the embargo on Israel, but his offer was rejected.

“I told him, in Israel, while we have many different political parties...we are one people,” Kahlon said. “I said to him that under no circumstances shall we form a Libyan party.”

Flamboyant Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi once famously proposed the creation of an entity he dubbed “Isratine,” essentially a binational state, as a means of solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What kind of political party the Libyans had in mind and whether it was supposed to support Gaddafi’s attempt at conflict resolution is uncertain, as the offer was rejected out of hand by Kahlon. Consequently, no new meetings between the parties were arranged.

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“After the Lockerbie settlement, the cessation of Libya’s atomic program and the opening of doors to US congressmen, they didn’t need to give an appearance that they were trying to reach an agreement with us,” Kahlon said, speculating on why the talks had come to an abrupt end.

Kahlon, who immigrated to Israel from Libya as a teenager in 1950, has been closely following events in the embattled country.

He said he still hoped Libyan Jews would one day be able to travel to visit the country of their birth and receive compensation for the private and communal assets they left behind.

“I don’t care about the money so much, but what I want is to be able to visit the grave where my mother’s bones are laid to rest,” he said.

Follow Gil Shefler on Twitter @gilshefler

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