Full-scale Inquiry to Be Launched into Old City Real Estate Deals

In yet another move by Israel’s Labor government to curb Jewish settlement in the Moslem Quarter of East Jerusalem, a full-scale investigation will be launched into real estate transactions there under the previous Likud administration.

The Cabinet on Sunday asked Attorney General Yosef Harish and State Comptroller Miriam Ben-Porat to investigate possible violations of the law in the purchase or rental of real estate in the densely populated Arab neighborhood.

The legal status of all controversial real estate in East Jerusalem will be examined by a committee of experts to be appointed by the finance and justice ministers, the Cabinet decided.

Its actions followed a report on real estate transactions in East Jerusalem under the Likud administration submitted by a committee headed by Haim Klugman, director-general of the Justice Ministry.

Justice Minister David Libai said the Klugman report indicates that the previous government acted in East Jerusalem “in underground style,” hiding behind such settlement groups as Ateret Cohanim and Atara Leyoshna.

The report said state-owned real estate appeared to have been transferred to private groups without clear legal criteria.

Former Housing Minister Ariel Sharon said Monday that the government’s inquiry into actions taken during his tenure was directed toward world opinion.

“The purpose is political and a clear signal to the Palestine Liberation Organization, to Arab states, to the United States” that the Rabin government is “ready to concede also on Jerusalem,” Sharon told Israel Radio.

Attorney General Harish told the Cabinet he warned the government at the time that the confiscation of houses in the Old City of Jerusalem was illegal.

The government’s actions on this issue are being closely watched by the Greek Orthodox Church, said Tourism Minister Uzi Baram.

He said the church is waiting to see whether the government will take steps to annul the takeover of St. John’s Hospice by Jewish settlers a year and a half ago. Court proceedings on the case are pending.

Ateret Cohanim claims the building, originally owned by the Greek Orthodox Church, was purchased legally.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin maintained that the investigation into the Old City transactions reflects no change in policy.

Other ministers said, however, that the probe represents a “loud and clear” signal of a change in government policy on Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem.

NEXT STORY