Proposed response To Rt Hon Tobias Ellwood MP

Dear (MP’s name)

Many thanks for forwarding the response from the Minister responsible for the Middle East and North Africa, on the question of Jewish refugees from Arab countries.

I very much welcome the fact that the Minister recognizes that the Arab-Israeli conflict caused significant suffering and displacement among Jews as well as Arabs.

However, I question his assumption that a comparison is not helpful.

While under international law the legitimate rights of Jews forced to flee Arab countries are neither identical to, nor symmetrical with,those of Palestinian refugees, there is significant linkage between these two refugee populations, underscoring the need to deal with both simultaneously:Both refugee populations were created by the Arab countries’ refusal to accept the 1947 UN Partition Plan and attacking Israel; both became refugees during the same period in history; and both were declared to be bona fide refugees,under international law, by the appropriate UN Agencies – UNHCR and UNRWA.

In the international, political arena, Jewish refugees have been inextricably linked to Palestinian refugees. The historic United Nations resolution 242 on the Arab-Israeli conflict stipulates, that a comprehensive peace settlement should necessarily include “a just settlement of the refugee problem,” language inclusive of Arab refugees and Jewish refugees.

The 1991 Madrid Peace Conference and the 2002 Road map to Middle East Peace call for a solution to the refugee problem. The intention in all of these seminal blueprints for peace is for both refugee populations to be addressed in tandem.

Rights to recognition and redress for Jewish refugees have been enshrined in legislation, as a matter of government policy, both in Israel and in the United States. Canada is the latest country to recognize the ‘Jewish refugee experience’.

Just because the Jewish refugees has been absorbed into Israel and the West, and the Palestinian refugees have been deliberately denied rights to citizenship by the Arab League’s 1959 Resolution 1457, does not negate any refugees’ rights to justice. Nor does it negate the responsibility of Arab states to provide a humanitarian solution to their plight.

Ensuring rights for both Arab and Jewish refugees is an essential key, on a very practical level, to resolving the issue of refugees.

For peace to be sustainable, it must be embraced not only by leaders but by the people in the region as well. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has spoken of holding a referendum among Palestinians to seek approval for any peace agreement. Prime Minister Netanyahu has similarly declared that there would be a referendum among Israelis on any peace agreement.

If Israelis – over 50% of whom are descendants of Jews displaced from Arab countries – are asked to approve a peace plan that only provides rights and redress for Palestinian refugees, it would less likely be adopted than an agreement that would provide rights and redress to Jewish refugees as well.

Providing a just and equitable solution to the refugee problem on both sides will be an inducement to peace and reconciliation in the region, something every fair-minded nation aspires for.

We hope that this is the message that will be transmitted to and from the Minister and the Government of the UK.