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Israel Faces Arab Furor over Land Confiscation Plans

Arab furor over Israel’s plans to confiscate Arab-owned lands in eastern Jerusalem has clouded the Jewish state’s already troubled negotiations with the Palestinians.

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres this week attempted to defuse the uproar during a two day trip to Cairo, where he met with Egyptian and Palestinian officials to discuss the planned land confiscations.

But despite his efforts, the storm of protests only intensified as the week progressed.

Jordanian officials reportedly warned that an Israeli failure to reverse its planned confiscations would have a grave impact on relations between the two countries.

The warning was delivered by Jordan’s recently appointed ambassador to Israel, Marwan Muashar, who met with Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin on Monday.

King Hassan II of Morocco sent a similar message to Israel in which he called the land confiscations a “bombshell” that could have “serious repercussions” on the Middle East peace process.

On Tuesday, the U.N. Security Council slated discussions on the matter, in response to calls by Morocco and the United Arab Emirates, according to an Israeli official.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Madeline Albright, has said she opposes any Security Council action, according to the official.

On Saturday, foreign ministers from the 22-member League of Arab States met in Cairo, where they called on the U.N. Security Council to block the Israeli move.

Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat warned the members of the Arab League that Israel’s move to appropriate land in eastern Jerusalem would create new facts on the ground before the future of the city could be negotiated.

Talks between the two sides regarding the final status of Jerusalem are slated to begin in May 1996.

Israel has rejected the call for a Security Council meeting, saying the land had to be confiscated from Jews as well as Arabs, in order to provide room for the city’s growing population.

Peres encountered Arab anger over the Israeli move firsthand when he arrived in Cairo on Sunday.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Amre Moussa said he hoped that the Israeli government would reconsider the planned confiscation.

Palestinian negotiator Nabil Sha’ath said the planned land confiscation put the entire peace process, not just the Israeli-Palestinian track, in jeopardy.

Last week, a number of Western countries, including the United States, Great Britain and France, criticized Israel’s announced plans to expropriate some 140 acres of land in eastern Jerusalem.

Israeli officials meanwhile tried to dispel the growing pressure from Arab leaders.

Israel’s ambassador to Amman, Shimon Shamir, told Israel Radio on Tuesday that the warning from Jordan did not reflect a crisis in relations between the two countries, but was instead a difference of opinion.

He said the Jordanian warning should not be ignored, but added that it should not be blown out of proportion.

Peres, too, tried to play down the differences between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

Peres said Sunday that about 60 percent of the land is owned by Jews and that 400 of the new apartments planned to be built on the confiscated land would be for Palestinians.

This sparked a sharp reply from Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who called Peres’ remarks a “brilliant lie.”

Erekat later apologized for his remarks, saying he made them in a private conversation with three Israeli journalists after they told him of Peres’ figures regarding who owned the land.

Meanwhile, Peres told reporters that he thought that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators could still meet their July 1 deadline for an accord on Palestinian elections and Israeli troop withdrawals.

Peres reportedly announced Monday a series of measures intended to make life easier for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

The measures included an increase in the number of palestinians allowed to work in Israel, simplified procedures for products and goods entering Palestinian self-rule areas, approval for a heliport in Gaza, the release of 250 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails and an end to the curfew in the West Bank town of Hebron.

In a separate development, Palestinian construction plans in eastern Jerusalem have drawn the ire of Israeli officials.

Jerusalem municipal officials warned that construction at Orient House, the PLO’s headquarters in eastern Jerusalem, would be demolished if the Palestinians did not obtain a building permit for the work.

Last Friday, the municipality obtained a work stoppage order after municipal officials discovered the unlicensed construction work earlier last week.

City officials suggested that Orient House put in a formal request for a permit for the construction, which includes an addition to the building occupying at least 84 square yards.

Orient House officials maintained that they obtained no permit because the work involved renovations only.

Ziad Abu-Ziad, a member of the Palestinian Authority charged Israeli officials with using the Orient House construction as a means of diverting attention from its own planned land confiscations.

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