JERUSALEM, Sept. 16 (JTA) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has postponed a trip to Eastern Europe in order to find a way to evict Jewish families who moved into the neighborhood of Ras al-Amud in eastern Jerusalem earlier in the week. At issue was what legal course of action Netanyahu could follow in light of the fact that the house inhabited by the settlers was privately owned by Miami-based developer Dr. Irving Moskowitz. Israeli media reported that deliberations Tuesday night at the Prime Minister’s Office focused on two options: getting the families to leave voluntarily and citing public safety and national security as overriding reasons to remove the settlers. The deliberations came amid Police Commissioner Assaf Hefetz’s warning that the Jewish presence in the neighborhood of 11,000 Arabs could “trigger riots and a renewal of the Palestinian intifada.” Earlier Tuesday, Netanyahu said he would put off his scheduled departure for Romania in order to resolve the matter. “I plan to put off my trip to Europe, at least the first part of it, to find a solution,” Netanyahu said during a tour of Tel Aviv. “We hope to find a reasonable solution.” Public Security Minister Avigdor Kahalani confirmed Tuesday that the possible entry of Jewish settlers into Ras al-Amud had been raised by ministers nearly two weeks before the action was taken. But he said the matter was raised Sept. 5 as a “side issue” and was largely disregarded, as the ministers were then focused on the previous day’s triple suicide bombing in downtown Jerusalem that killed five Israelis and on a failed commando raid in Lebanon that day which had left 12 troops dead. The families who moved into a two-story structure in Ras al-Amud on Sunday night have rejected a request to leave voluntarily. They moved into the predominantly Arab neighborhood hours after a district planning board upheld a July decision by the Jerusalem municipality to grant Moskowitz permits to build 70 housing units for Jews. Moskowitz financed the excavation of a new entrance to an archaeological tunnel in Jerusalem’s Old City. The opening of that entrance last September sparked three days of Palestinian rioting in which 15 Israelis and 61 Palestinians were killed. In July, Netanyahu criticized the Jerusalem Municipality for granting Moskowitz the permits to build the 70 housing units. Netanyahu was even more explicit in his criticism of the move by the settler families this week, saying it was “not good for Jerusalem” and “not good for Israel.” Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai and Foreign Minister David Levy also sharply criticized the action, saying that it was unnecessary and only heightened tensions with the Palestinians. Palestinian officials have denounced the Ras al-Amud development as a “provocation.” Palestinian official Saeb Erekat told the Palestinian legislative council Tuesday that Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat had written to the United States and the European Union to intervene. Erekat said Arafat would raise the matter in discussions this week in Europe, and at a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo on Friday and Saturday.
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