Israel rules out peace deal unless refugees get compensation ~ Adrian Blomfield, Jerusalem, The Telegraph.
Further complicating efforts to end the Middle East conflict, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, is to insist that the fate of Jewish and Palestinian refugees be linked together as a “core issue” in any future peace negotiations.
The Palestinian leadership was quick to denounce the new demand as a “time-wasting” ruse, saying that it was an attempt to deflect attention away from Jewish settlement building in the West Bank.
“If ever there was evidence of the Israeli government’s insincerity about making peace, this is it,” one senior official said. “They are creating new obstacles even when no negotiations are taking place.”
The fate of the Palestinian refugees who fled or were forced to flee their homes in Israel during the wars that accompanied its creation in 1948 has always been a central element of peace talks between the two sides.
But until now the Jewish refugees who fled or were expelled to Israel from Muslim states in retaliation have been considered a more peripheral issue.
Mr Netanyahu, however, has accepted a proposal drafted last year by his national security council that will redefine the long-accepted basis of a future peace deal, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.
“Any agreement that doesn’t provide an answer to the Jewish refugees shouldn’t be seen by Israel’s leadership or people as ending the conflict,” the report, a copy of which was obtained by the newspaper, said.
Although they have not done so in public, Palestinian negotiators have previously indicated their willingness to give up “the right of return” for the Palestinian refugees of 1948 and their descendants, who number nearly 5m people.
Past negotiations have instead proposed that Palestinian refugees receive compensation from an international fund set up for the purpose.
According to the Israeli proposal, Jewish refugees would also be compensated. But in a move likely to cause controversy, it also demands that Jewish refugees be paid more because they lost property of a greater value.
The Israeli government is to insist that it also be compensated for the cost of absorbing the refugees.
The proposal has further angered Palestinian leaders, who refuse to recognise Arab Jews living in Israel as refugees.
“If Israel is their homeland, then they are not refugees,” said Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestinian official. “They are immigrants who returned either voluntarily or due to a political decision.”
Despite their misgivings, Palestinian officials did not reject the proposal outright, saying it was a matter that Israel needed to discuss with Arab states.
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