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Behind the Headlines: Palestinian Land Purchases Center on Eastern Jerusalem

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For sale, preferably to Palestinian customers, is a $3.5 million piece of real estate in predominantly Jewish western Jerusalem.

The man who made this offer, Yoram Yazdi, is a Jewish businessman from Jerusalem.

“I received the property as a gift from a relative,” Yazdi said in an interview. “Its market value is $2 million, but I would have to pay $1.5 million in taxes.”

Yazdi said the property could be used for housing and business purposes, but he would not provide additional details about it.

He contacted Faisal Husseini, the Palestinian Authority official in charge of Jerusalem affairs, assuming that the self-rule government could easily find someone to pay the tax in order to gain a foothold in western Jerusalem.

But Husseini turned down the offer.

The Palestinian Authority seems to be more concerned with preventing Jewish inroads in the part of Jerusalem that Palestinians envision as the capital of their future state rather than staking claims to western Jerusalem, which has been part of the Jewish state since 1948.

Yazdi has not given up hope of selling the building to a Palestinian, but he appears to have given up hope on the Jewish state. “With God’s help, we shall complete the transaction,” he said. “I have no remorse, and I feel no obligation toward this state. As soon as I get the money, I will take my family and leave the country.”

He did try to contact at least one potential Jewish buyer.

“I wrote [Dr. Irving] Moskowitz at the time, telling him that my property was up for sale,” Yazdi said.

He was referring to the Miami-based businessman who made headlines this month with his effort to house Jews in the predominantly Arab neighborhood of Ras al- Amud on the Mount of Olives.

“But Moskowitz did not show any interest,” Yazdi said.

The question remains how unique Yazdi is in his willingness to sell property to Arabs.

“I was surprised to see how many Israelis sell their property in west Jerusalem,” said Dr. Ahmed Tibi, a close adviser to Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat.

Anything Moskowitz does in eastern Jerusalem, Arab entrepreneurs can do just as well in western Jerusalem, Tibi added.

He warned recently that if Moskowitz went ahead with his housing drive in eastern Jerusalem, Palestinians were ready to complete three real estate deals in western Jerusalem.

“I would like to know how Israelis would feel if they woke up one morning to find the Palestinian flag raised above buildings in the heart of west Jerusalem with Arabic music playing loud out of those buildings,” said Tibi.

“I believe Israelis will begin to doubt the wisdom of their actions and provocations in east Jerusalem.”

Have Palestinians indeed begun a real estate offensive in western Jerusalem?

According to Shalom Goldstein, Arab affairs adviser to Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert, there has been no political decision by the Palestinian leadership to launch a campaign of purchases in western Jerusalem.

Legally, nothing stands in the way of a Palestinian to purchase real estate in western Jerusalem, or, for that matter, anywhere else in Israel.

“With the exception of state-owned lands, even a Saudi millionaire can come and purchase half of Tel Aviv,” lawyer Avigdor Feldman, who represents residents of eastern Jerusalem in real estate matters, said in an interview.

Feldman represents a group known as Al-Kanun, or The Law, which works with Arab families whose property was purchased by Jews.

Palestinians claim ownership of thousands of properties in 370 towns and villages that they deserted during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence and that Israel subsequently confiscated.

Feldman said he recently won four court cases in which he contested Jewish claims to Palestinian property in Silwan, an eastern Jerusalem neighborhood. A fifth case is still in court.

When it comes to property purchases, the Palestinians appear to be focusing on preemptive real estate buys in eastern Jerusalem rather than trying to provoke Israelis in the western part of the city.

Their goal is to prevent real estate ventures such as the one initiated by Moskowitz at Ras al-Amud.

“The problem is that transactions are carried out in secret, and it is not always easy to trace them in time,” said Feldman.

Several Arab groups have recently been established in eastern Jerusalem to collect funds for real estate purchases there.

And in August, Jordanian and Palestinian businessmen founded a group designed to invest money in eastern Jerusalem.

The new group, the Jerusalem Development and Investment Corporation, has initial capital of $100 million. Based in the Jordanian capital of Amman, the group is headed by multi-millionaire Abdul Majid Shuman, chairman of the Arab Bank.

Along with making land purchases and offering legal advice, the group hopes to help the economy of eastern Jerusalem so that Arabs living there will not be tempted to sell their land and move elsewhere.

Representatives of the group recently announced that they would raise $500 million “to prevent the emigration of Jerusalem residents by creating job opportunities and investment projects.”

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