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Peres Faces Furor in Cairo over Land Confiscation Plans


Arab furor over Israel’s plans to confiscate Arab-owned lands in eastern Jerusalem has clouded the Jewish state’s already troubled negotiations with the Palestinians.

But Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres is still optimistic the two sides will meet a July 1 deadline for reaching agreement on Palestinian elections and a concurrent Israeli army withdrawal from Arab population centers in the West Bank.

Peres encountered Arab anger over the Israeli move firsthand on Sunday, when he traveled to Cairo for meetings with Egyptian officials and Palestinian negotiators.

He arrived a day after foreign ministers from the 22-member League of Arab States met in Cairo, where they called on the U.N. Security Council to block the Israeli move.

But Israel rejected the call for a Security Council meeting, saying the land had to be confiscated from Jews as well as Arabs, in order to provide room for the city’s growing population.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Amre Moussa, who met Peres at the airport and later held talks with him, said he hoped that the Israeli government would reconsider the planned confiscation.

“This plan has sparked a fury in the region,” Moussa told reporters. “We will ask Mr. Peres to change the Israeli decision.”

“The change is necessary because this measure is totally wrong and stabs the peace process” in the back, the Egyptian official added.

Palestinian negotiator Nabil Sha’ath said the planned land confiscation put the entire peace process, not just the Israeli-Palestinian track, in jeopardy.

And Palestinian official Saeb Erekat described the land moves as “terrorist acts,” which he said would only lead to more violence.

But Peres tried to play down the differences.

At Israel’s weekly Cabinet meetings, held in Jerusalem prior to his departure for Cairo, the foreign minister said that some of the planned construction on the confiscated sites would also benefit the city’s Arab population.

Peres also defended the move in Cairo, telling reporters that it “is not a political development.”

“It is, if you want, a demographic one” reflecting the growth of Jerusalem,” he said.

Peres also told reporter that he thought that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators would meet their July 1 deadline for an accord on Palestinian elections and Israeli troop withdrawals.

Negotiators on issues surrounding the Palestinian elections have reported progress in their talks. But the more complex negotiations on the army redevelopment in the West Bank have been moving far more slowly, amid Israel Defense Force concerns for security in the wake of continuing terror attacks.

Implementation of these two phases of the Palestinian self-rule accord is now almost a year behind schedule. According to the terms of the accord, Palestinian elections should have taken place last July.

At Saturday’s Arab League meeting in Cairo, Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat warned that Israel’s move to appropriate land in eastern Jerusalem would create new facts on the ground before the future of the city could be negotiated.

Talks between the two sides regarding the final status of Jerusalem are slated to begin in May 1996.

Last week, a number of Western countries, including the United States, Great Britain and France, criticized Israel’s announced plans to expropriate some 120 acres of land in eastern Jerusalem, about 70 percent of which is Arab-owned.

Meanwhile, denunciation of the confiscations also emanated from the Jordanian capital of Amman, where a parliamentary committee on Jerusalem convened a special meeting on the issue.

In a statement issued afterward, the committee condemned Israel and also denounced the United States for its rejection of a Security Council debate on the matter.

Israel Radio reported that the Jordanian Foreign Ministry also invited the U.S. and Russian ambassadors for consultations in which the Jordanians would underscore that the entire peace process was threatened by the Israeli move.

In a separate development, Palestinian construction plans in eastern Jerusalem have drawn the ire of Israeli officials.

Jerusalem municipal officials warned that construction at Orient House, the PLO’s headquarters in eastern Jerusalem, would be demolished if the Palestinians did not obtain a building permit for the work.

Last Friday, the municipality obtained a work stoppage order from the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court after municipal discovered the unlicensed construction work earlier last week.

City officials suggested that Orient House put in a formal request for a permit for the construction, which includes an addition to the building occupying at least 84 square yards.

Orient House officials maintained that they obtained no permit because the work involved renovations only.

A member of the Palestinian Authority charged Israeli officials with using the Orient House construction as a means of diverting attention from its own planned land confiscation.

“The Jerusalem municipality, headed by Mayor Ehud Olmert, has started looking for side issues to blow hot air into and deflect attention from what is going on in Jerusalem to what is going on at Orient House,” Ziad Abu-Ziad told reporters.

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