Ras Al Amoud settlement in East Jerusalem: A time bomb is ticking again
Palestine-Israel, Politics, 2/5/1998
The Israeli decision to grant a permit for 132 housing units for Jews in East Jerusalem's Ras Al Amoud neighborhood is expected to cause a major outbreak of violence in the Palestinian territories, should the decision enter the execution phase, Palestinian sources warned Thursday.
The sources said that any further Jewish settlement activity in the Occupied Territories in general and in East Jerusalem in particular is of a major destructive impact on the already stalled peace talks and can never be accepted by the Palestinian people. Officially, the sources noted, Palestine has adopted a stand of self restraint with regard to the issue, hoping that the Prime Minister's decision not to grant permission for work to start immediately could give room for optimism that the Jewish neighborhood eventually would not be set up in East Jerusalem.
Palestine warned Israel against building 132 housing units for Jews in Ras Al Amoud, stating that such a decision may lead to an explosion. Palestinian Cabinet Secretary Ahmad Abdul Rahman said the move will be the spark that will cause the already tense relations to explode. Palestine Higher Education Minister Hanan Ashrawi described the Israeli decision as more proof that Israel is seeking to destroy the peace process.
Palestinian sources said the announcement issued by the prime ministerıs office that Benjamin Netanyahu himself will act in order to prevent the construction plan sounded a bit promising at least as long as actual work on the site has not started yet. However, they warned, any mistake by the Israeli government allowing the settlement project to be established will lead to some kind of civil disobedience and constant clashes between the Palestinian residents of the city of Jerusalem and the Jewish settlers who will be taking over the new neighborhood.
PLO Executive Committee Member Faisal Husseini, who is charge of the Jerusalem portfolio in Palestine, warned that the new Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem will lead to the Hebronization of the city, referring to the city of Hebron, a hotbed of violent clashes between the Palestinian population and Jewish settlers who were allowed to stay in the heart of the city.
"The implementation of the construction plans will lead to the Hebronization of Jerusalem and no Palestinian will accept it," said Husseini. "The situation," said Husseini, "is tense, terrible and dangerous, just like it was on the eve of the 1987 uprising, and the construction in Ras Al Amoud is liable to be the spark that lights the fuse. Today we heard that the government is not going to go this way and we hope that Netanyahu does indeed prevent the construction."
Last summer, when American Jewish financier Irving Moskowitz announced his plan to set up a new Jewish settlement in Ras Al Amoud and Jewish settlers took over a number of Arab houses in the area claiming they were purchased by Moskowitz, violent demonstrations broke out in Jerusalem and in other areas of the PNA. The unrest that followed caused a severe international condemnation to Israel which, it seems today, is more careful not to draw additional world criticism. But if the plan to build the settlement goes ahead, these scenes of fierce clashes and violence are very likely to replay not only in East Jerusalem, but all over the Palestinian territories.
The head of the General Committee to Defend Silwan and Ras Al Amoud lands, Haj Abed Abu Diab, meanwhile, called on various Palestinian organizations and factions to meet and discuss the new Israeli decision, saying that the new Jewish settlement, which will overlook Al Aqsa Mosque and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the Old City of Jerusalem, will pose a major threat to the Arab identity of Jerusalem and will sever geographical links between Abu Dis and East Jerusalem.
Abu Diab condemned Israeli actions which, he said, violate all the signed agreements between the PLO and Israel with regard to issues of the final status negotiations, including Jerusalem, settlements, borders, water and refugees. He said that Israel should not be allowed to take steps that preempt any agreement in the future on the final arrangements between the two sides.
When the Israeli decision was taken last year, settlers justified their move saying the site of the planned new settlement was purchased by Moskowitz and that they have the right to enter those houses any time they wish. But the Palestinians then argued that should the right to return to property purchased in the past be applied, it should then be applied to both Arabs and Jews. ³We still have our own property in West Jerusalem's neighborhoods of Qatamoun, Baq'a, Talbiyyeh and Ein Karem as well as in Jaffa, Haifa and all over Palestine. If the Jews want to go into what they claim to be their own houses, we should also be allowed to go back to our pre-1948 property, from which we were evicted by force," said Abu Diab.
So far, it is not clear who will give the go-ahead for the start of construction works. The Interior Ministry claims the decision is now in the hands of Jerusalem's mayor, Ehud Olmert, while Olmert's office insists the case is the Interior Ministry's responsibility. Olmert is considered a driving force behind the intensified campaign to set up new Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem. He was among those who pushed for the takeover of Jabal Abu Ghaneim on the southeastern plains of East Jerusalem for the new settlement of Har Homa and later for the new neighborhood in Ras Al Amoud. Israeli reports said Thursday that Olmert might now settle for a deal with the prime minister by which construction on Har Homa settlement would be sped up in return for Olmert's blocking of the Ras Al Amoud plan.
As far as the Palestinians are concerned, they are strongly against both plans. The opposition in Israel is also opposed to both settlement projects, though the Har Homa plan was first drafted under the former Labor government of Yitzhak Rabin. Opposition Labor party leader Ehud Barak said Thursday that his party is opposed to the two plans because "the timing is not appropriate to raise additional controversial issues with the Arabs." Barak said in principle he does not oppose the Har Homa settlement. The new Jewish neighborhood in Ras Al Amoud, he said "is a pain in the neck."
The construction of the new settlement at Ras Al Amoud, if approved now, will only start next year. After the approval for the construction was granted by the Interior Ministryıs district committee for planning and construction in Jerusalem, the plan is now being submitted for examination by the local planning and construction committee in Jerusalem where deliberations on the issue are expected to last a few months.
The Ras Al Amoud neighborhood in east Jerusalem covers an area of 13,800 square meters where at least 12,000 Palestinians live. American Jewish millionaire Irving Moskowitz, a close friend to Netanyahu, claimed he purchased the site a few years ago and applied for construction permits in 1996.
Israeli sources said the construction of 55 housing units for Jews in the Arab neighborhood was approved as early as 1974 by the then mayor of the city, Teddy Kollek. Three Jewish families broke into the houses and set up their base last August causing confrontations with the Palestinian residents of the area. Following the uproar that was caused by the Jewish takeover of the houses, an arrangement was reached in which the settlers vacated the building, leaving behind ten Jewish seminary students as a symbolic presence for Jews in the area.
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