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Israeli government unable to reach accord with Moskowitz

JERUSALEM, Sept. 17 (JTA) – The Israeli government has failed to secure the removal of three Jewish families who moved into an Arab neighborhood of eastern Jerusalem this week. Public Security Minister Avigdor Kahalani, the government official appointed to deal with the matter, held two hours of talks Wednesday with Dr. Irving Moskowitz, the Miami-based developer who owns the structure in Ras al-Amud that the families moved into Sunday night. According to Moskowitz, the two sides agreed only to hold further talks. Moskowitz, who earlier in the day was greeted with the blowing of a shofar when he visited the site, said he did not believe the Jewish residents in the Arab neighborhood created any undue friction. “We expect that the Arab neighbors of ours will respect us, and we will respect them likewise. We intend and know we will live with good neighbors and have good relationships with them.” Shortly after Moskowitz’s visit, several hundred Palestinians began demonstrating near the site, throwing stones and waving Palestinian flags. Israeli police prevented the protesters from approaching the building that housed the three families. The Palestinians were joined by Israeli left-wing activists, who set up a protest tent near the site. In a sign of the crisis atmosphere surrounding the issue, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled his scheduled trips to Hungary and Romania. His office said that Netanyahu may still leave Sunday for a two-day visit to Austria. The families moved into a two-story structure in the Arab neighborhood, which is adjacent to the Mount of Olives, 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. The action took place only days after U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, on her first visit to the region since assuming the post, called on Israel to take a “timeout” from taking “provocative” steps, particularly Israeli construction plans on disputed land. In July, Netanyahu criticized the Jerusalem municipality for granting Moskowitz the building permits. Netanyahu was even more explicit in his criticism of the move by the families this week, saying it was “not good for Jerusalem” and “not good for Israel.” Netanyahu, a staunch defender of Israel’s right to build in Jerusalem, said all actions and building in the city should be part of a government plan. Moskowitz rejected one compromise Wednesday that would have had the three families move out voluntarily, but would have left several yeshiva students to maintain a Jewish presence there. According to the compromise, Netanyahu would have allowed the families to return in several months. Moskowitz and some of the Jewish residents petitioned the High Court of Justice on Wednesday to prevent the government from evicting the tenants. The petition argued that the government had failed to provide evidence that the Jewish families’ presence in Ras al-Amud endangered public safety or national security. The families said Wednesday that they rejected any compromise on the grounds that Moskowitz had legally purchased the building and that they had every right, as paying tenants, to live there. “Proposals were made, but there is no compromise,” Hagit Harel, a spokeswoman for the families, told Israel Radio. The Palestinians, who termed the move by the families a “provocation,” warned Israel that the issue must be resolved quickly. Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat told reporters that unless the families leave, “there will be a very negative response.” Israeli Police Commissioner Assaf Hefetz also warned that the Jewish presence in the neighborhood of 11,000 Arabs could “trigger riots and a renewal of the Palestinian intifada.”