International opposition to Israeli confiscation of Arab-owned land in eastern Jerusalem has not deterred the Jewish state from moving forward with its plans.
At its weekly meeting Sunday, the Israeli Cabinet approved the confiscation of some 140 acres of land in eastern Jerusalem, some of which is Arab-owned, on which the government wants to build additional housing and a police station.
But the Cabinet decision was far from unanimous. Four ministers from the dovish Meretz bloc voted against the confiscations, and four Labor Party ministers abstained.
Despite its go-ahead to proceed with the confiscations, the Cabinet agreed not to approve any similar measures in the future.
In a statement read after the meeting, the Cabinet said it “does not intend to carry out additional expropriations of land for housing in Jerusalem.”
The Cabinet’s decision to confiscate the land was condemned by the Palestinian Authority, which convened a special meeting to discuss the matter Sunday.
Palestinian officials accused Israel of trying to change facts on the ground in Jerusalem, whose final status is to be determined in negotiations beginning in 1996, according to the Israeli-Palestine Liberation Organization accord.
“There is a serious and continuing attempt to swallow Jerusalem land piece by piece, and this threatens the whole peace process,” said Nabil Sha’ath, the Palestinian Authority official in charge of planning.
Sha’ath said Arab states would halt the normalization process with Israel unless it respects Palestinian rights in the city.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, speaking on the eve of another round of Israeli-Palestinian talks in Cairo, predicted Sunday that those talks would be overshadowed by the Israeli government’s decision to go ahead with the land expropriations.
The outcry persisted in the international arena as well.
At a session of the U.N. Security Council held last Friday, more than a dozen states condemned Israel’s actions during an open debate on the issue. All the council members, with the exception of the American representative, called for some sort of action against Israel.
The Unites States vowed to block a Security Council resolution condemning Israel that was circulated last Friday and that was scheduled to be discussed further Monday. The United States has maintained that any U.N. action on the matter would only hinder the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Earlier this month, a number of Western countries, including the United States, Great Britain and France, criticized Israel’s plans.
Meanwhile, three leading Israeli authors, demonstrating outside the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem during the Cabinet meeting Sunday, called on the government to reverse the expropriation order.
“The step that the government is about to take today is precisely contrary to peace,” one of the authors, David Grossman, told Israel Radio.
He said the confiscations would only serve to “eternalize the state of war” between Israel and the Palestinians.
The Israeli human rights group B’ Tselem criticized the land confiscations as a violation of Palestinian rights and international law.
The group said in a report that the Israeli government has restricted Palestinian building, and that 88 percent of homes constructed in Jerusalem since 1967 were in Jewish neighborhoods.
Israeli officials have defended the confiscations as necessary to accommodate the city’s natural expansion.
Foreign Minister Peres said last week that about 60 percent of the land to be confiscated is owned by Jews and that 400 of the new apartments planned to be built on the confiscated land would be for Palestinians.
Over the weekend, Peres went further. He proposed building a new Arab neighborhood between the two Jewish areas of Pisgat Ze’ev and French Hill.
The idea was quickly shot down by Jerusalem’s mayor, Ehud Olmert, who said only municipal officials could determine such matters.
In another development, the government last week announced that it had dropped plans to expropriate land from the Cremisan Monastery outside of Jerusalem to build a road linking the West Bank and Jerusalem.
The move was apparently aimed at averting a conflict with the Vatican.
Israeli Radio reported that the Vatican had summoned Israel’s ambassador to the Holy See, Shmuel Hadas, over reports of the land expropriation.
A statement from Religious Affairs Minister Shimon Shetreet said other land would be expropriated for the road, but he did not specify who owned the land.