Jews settle in Palestinian Jerusalem
Sharon tests Bush, Blair and the road map by letting families occupy contested district
Chris McGreal in Jerusalem
Monday April 7, 2003
Ariel Sharon has brushed aside an appeal by the White House to stop an unprecedented move by Jewish settlers into a Palestinian district of Jersualem which his critics say will further hinder a political settlement.
After more than two years of legal and political wrangling, Mr Sharon's office approved the plan last week and the first Jewish families have moved into new flats in the Ma'aleh Ha'zeitim settlement, beside the densely populated Arab district of Ras al-Amoud.
It is the first time a Jewish settlement has been built in a Palestinian area of Jerusalem since Israel seized control of the entire city in 1967.
The first settlers at the apartment complex, just a few hundred metres from the Wailing Wall, include a millionaire, Irving Moskowitz, and his son-in-law Ariel King, a far-right political activist.
More than 100 more families are expected to move in during the coming months.
Condoleezza Rice, the White House national security adviser, telephoned Mr Sharon's office and warned that letting Jews move into the settlement might raise tension during the war on Iraq and further undermine the prospect of a political settlement.
Danny Seidemann, an adviser to previous Israeli leaders on how to divide Jerusalem, said Mr Sharon's approval for the settlers' move into Ma'aleh Ha'zeitim was a test for George Bush and Tony Blair, who meet in Belfast today to discuss, among other things, the "road map" to a Middle East peace deal which envisages a Palestinian state within three years.
"This is not something Sharon turned a blind eye to. This is something he gave the go ahead for even after Condoleezza Rice asked him not to," he said.
"The Jewish settlement in Ras al-Amoud makes a resolution more difficult and undermines the stability of the city. If the US is serious about the road map it will not countenance unilateral action on the settlements that predetermine an outcome to negotiations.
"If Mr Blair accepts this, it undermines his credibility when he says he is serious about the road map."
At the weekend Mr Sharon's chief aide, Dov Weisglass, said Israel was not prepared to make any concessions on "security issues"and would walk out of negotiations on the road map if forced to do so.
The prime minister's critics say that Ma'aleh Ha'zeitim is a political tactic to block the possibility of dividing Jerusalem as part of a peace deal.
It also undermines plans under the Camp David accords for a corridor to give Palestinians access to Muslim sites in Jerusalem's old city without having to pass through Israeli territory.
The flats at Ma'aleh Ha'zeitim are built on land bought in the 19th century by religious groups to expand a Jewish cemetery.
The property fell into Jordanian hands after Palestine was divided in 1948.
Jewish groups argue that they are entitled to live on the land, and to remove the Palestinian "squatters", under the Jews' right of return.
The courts agree, even though no similar right is extended to Palestinians driven from their homes in West Jerusalem.
Moreover, the supreme court has ruled that Palestinians cannot buy property in the Jewish quarter of the city, even if they once lived there.
Moni Mordecai, director of the pressure group Peace Now, accused the government of using the war in Iraq as a cover for the decision.
"The timing of this action raises the suspicion that the government intends to enable this underhanded opportunism that they hope will go unnoticed in the international community, to exploit a situation that holds disastrous implications for the area," he said.
Eyal Hareuveni, director of the Jerusalem branch of Peace Now, said: "This is a settler group, extremists who want to transfer the Arabs [out of their homeland].
"This is only a recipe for friction and violence."
An Israeli spokesman said the government had followed legal procedures in permitting the settlers to move in, and denied that it had a political motive.
©-free 2003 Adelaide Institute