Israel and Palestinians Locked in a Tug of War over Jerusalem

The status of Jerusalem, a subject that is not supposed to be negotiated for another two years, is already the focus of a war of words.

In recent days, Palestinian leaders have accused Israel of seeking to limit their political activities in Jerusalem and of closing Palestinian institutions here. And they are vowing they will resist any attempt to curb their Jerusalem-based activities.

The Palestinians will fight any move to change the political status quo in Jerusalem, Palestinian leader Faisal Husseini said Monday at a news conference at Orient House, the Palestinian headquarters in eastern Jerusalem.

He added that Palestinian leaders would establish increasing numbers of institutions here.

Israel had fired the first shot in the struggle for Jerusalem, Husseini said, “in the hope that the world and we will forget about the closure of (eastern) Jerusalem” to Palestinians from the territories.

Husseini, long the leader of the mainstream Palestine Liberation Organization faction in the West Bank, was among those named by PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat to serve on the newly formed Palestinian National Authority, which will have overall responsibility for Palestinian affairs in the autonomous regions of Gaza and Jericho.

Husseini was not given a formal Cabinet position, but will instead function as a minister without portfolio with the special duty of negotiating Jerusalem’s future status.

On Sunday, Israel reportedly asked the PLO to desist from creating any further autonomous institutions in Jerusalem.

It was also reported that the PLO had agreed to move the offices of its financial authority from the Intercontinental Hotel to the suburb of Beit Hanina, which lies outside the municipal jurisdiction of the capital.

HAMAS HOLDS JERICHO PROCESSION

Israel wants all newly created Palestinian institutions to be set up in Jericho.

Israel also is seeking to ensure that the European Union and UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, establish their planned liaison offices in Jericho, rather than Jerusalem.

In Jericho, meanwhile, the Islamic fundamentalist Hamas movement, which opposes the Israeli-PLO peace initiative, held a giant procession through the town Monday. In an effort to prevent confrontations, the Israel Defense Force sealed off the Jericho enclave to Israelis.

Hamas officials recently stated that the group will desist from attacking Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel in order to give the Palestinian police a chance to establish itself.

But discord between the PLO and militant Palestinian groups has erupted over the officials Arafat has named to the 24-member Palestinian National Authority.

George Habash, leader of the Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, has claimed that the authority represents fewer than 12 percent of the Palestinian people and that only Arafat’s close associates are represented in the body.

Critics cite Arafat’s total control over the nominating process from the PLO’s headquarters in Tunis.

Among these critics is former Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi, who in recent months has repeatedly attacked what she called Arafat’s dictatorial style.

On Sunday, Ashrawi confirmed that she had rejected — for the second time — an offer from Arafat to serve on the authority.

She said she had been offered the position of minister of information. Last week, she rejected an offer to serve as Palestinian envoy to Washington.

According to news reports, Arafat had sent out feelers to both Hamas and the Popular Front with the goal of having these rejectionist groups represented in the governing authority.

Both groups reportedly turned him down.

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