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Israel, Palestinians Agree Not to Close Three Agencies

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Israel and the Palestinian Authority sidestepped a crisis over the impending closure of three Palestinian institutions in eastern Jerusalem with a compromise that will allow them to continue operating.

Under the agreement, the institutions are expected to sign declarations that they have no ties, financial or otherwise, with the Palestinian Authority.

The compromise was reached 24 hours before closure orders issued earlier this week by Israeli Police Minister Moshe Shahal were to take effect against the Palestinian Health Council, the Palestinian Broadcast Authority and the Palestinian Statistics Center.

Shahal issued the closure orders Monday, saying that the three institutions had legal ties to the Palestinian Authority.

Israel has been concerned that the Palestinian Authority has been attempting to establish in eastern Jerusalem the de facto capital of a future Palestinian state.

Under the terms of the self-rule accord, the Palestinian Authority must restrict its activities to those under its control – currently the Gaza Strip and the West Bank city of Jericho.

The crisis was averted Thursday, when the head of the Palestinian Health Council, Fathi Arafat – Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat’s brother – signed a declaration stating that the council had no connections to the Palestinian Authority and that it was funded by international donations.

Shahal agreed to a request from the other two organizations, the Broadcasting Authority and the Statistics Center, to delay the closure order in order to give staff time to determine their positions on the matter.

Redwan Abu Ayash, director of the Palestinian Broadcasting Authority, said the Jerusalem office served his own private business interests and was not connected to the self-rule government.

The director of the Statistics Center said he had been planning on moving the offices to Ramallah in any event.

The compromise came as Israel and the PLO have been working intensely in Eilat to try to complete an agreement on the interim phase of self-rule, which calls for the extension of Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank.

The compromise regarding the three institutions was reached as a result of discussions between Shahal and the head of the Palestinian negotiating team in Eilat, Ahmed Karia, also known as Abu Alla.

Israeli opposition leaders said Shahal’s backing down from his threat to close the institutions proved that Israel had capitulated to Palestinian pressure.

Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Shmuel Meir said that if the police did not close down the institutions, the “residents of Jerusalem” would.

Meanwhile, Abu Alla said Thursday that he believed that it was unlikely that Israel and the Palestinians would complete the agreement on expanding self-rule in the West Bank by the end of September.

He said too many issues – including Palestinian prisoner releases and who would have control over West bank electrical grids – remained unresolved.

The two sides had previously planned to have a signing ceremony in early September for the interim self-rule agreement, but that date has changed several times.

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