Police Can Evict Settlers, but Government Must Decide

Israeli Attorney General Yosef Harish has handed Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir a political time bomb with the potential to bring down his government or wreck the shaky Arab-Israeli peace process.

Harish, the government’s chief legal adviser, ruled Tuesday that the police had sufficient grounds to forcibly evacuate two families of Jewish settlers who last month took over buildings in Silwan, an Arab village within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries.

Harish cited security reasons, meaning Arab unrest that could arise and spread throughout the city if the Jewish squatters are allowed to remain.

The attorney general recognized, however, the sensitive political ramifications, which overrode the legal aspects. Therefore, he said, it is up to the government to decide whether to remove the settlers or allow them to remain.

Time is of the essence, as the High Court of Justice is scheduled to hear the settlers’ claim to ownership of the buildings this Sunday. As counsel for the government, Harish wants to know what position to take.

The settlers movement and its supporters on the right reacted immediately, demanding Harish’s instant dismissal.

He is already in hot water with the far right for declining to prosecute Palestinian activist Hanan Ashrawi for violating the law against contacts with the Palestine Liberation Organization. In that case too, he cited the political considerations.

The situation in Silwan could also impinge on the peace conference if Israel allows Jewish settlers to remain in houses taken over from Arabs, a week before bilateral talks are set to resume in Washington.

On the other hand, eviction of the Jews could so enrage the right that Shamir’s Likud coalition would fall apart.

About 40 Jewish families clandestinely occupied five houses in Silwan on Oct. 9, four days before Baker was due in Jerusalem on one of his peace missions.

The police intervened and, after prolonged negotiations, all but two of the houses were evacuated. Two families were allowed to remain, pending a court ruling on their ownership claims.

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