The Canadian government reiterated its position that the fate of Jewish refugees from Arab countries should be considered in any final peace deal with the Palestinians, but hinted that the current negotiations should be allowed to proceed without the issue complicating them.
“Fair and equal acknowledgement of all refugee populations arising out of the Arab-Israeli conflict requires the recognition of Jewish refugees,” Foreign Minister John Baird said in a statement Wednesday. “Such recognition does not diminish or compete with the situation of Palestinian refugees.”
Baird’s statement follows a decision by the House of Commons, which earlier this month adapted a report submitted to parliament last year to recognize the experience of Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa.
The 17-page report, authored by the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, noted that during the course of its hearings, members “learned of the discrimination and hardship faced by Jewish people living in the Middle East and North Africa in the 20th century [which] surged over the years in tandem with the crisis moments of the Arab-Israeli conflict, in particular the 1948–49 and 1967 wars.”
The committee heard that since 1948, roughly 850,000 Jews fled persecution and violence in the Middle East and North Africa, and that about 650,000 immigrated to Israel, while the rest settled in other countries, including Canada.
The reported concluded by recommending that Ottawa “officially recognize” the Jewish refugees’ experience, and asking the government to encourage “the direct negotiating parties to take into account all refugee populations as part of any just and comprehensive resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli conflicts.”
Baird said he accepted the suggestions, but indicated that it should not be overplayed in the current phase of US-brokered talks.
“The government of Canada agrees in principle with the committee’s second recommendation, that the experience of Jewish refugees should be taken into consideration as a part of any just and comprehensive peace deal, however, we believe that the peace process as it is currently structured offers the best hope for a positive solution,” the foreign minister said in a statement.
“Canada continues to advocate for a comprehensive, two-state solution reached through a negotiated agreement between the two parties that guarantees Israel’s right to live in peace and security with its neighbors and leads to the establishment of a viable and independent Palestinian state.”
Israel has raised the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab states repeatedly in the peace talks, a senior Israeli official told The Times of Israel Thursday. “We believe that it’s impossible to be color blind when talk about the fate of refugees. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were forced to leave their homes in Arab nations across the Middle East; and when one talks about the suffering of refugees, about their compensation and their rights, obviously this is a population that cannot be ignored.” Doing so would be “racism,” the senior official said.
The Palestinians, however, are only “focused on their own refugees” in the negotiations, the senior official said. “They’re unwilling, as far as I know to deal seriously with this issue.”
A so-called framework agreement to extend the talks beyond its initial April deadline, to be presented by US Secretary John Kerry in the coming weeks, will reportedly include for the first time a call for compensation to Palestinian and Jewish refugees.
JTA contributed to this report.