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Israel Appeals to United Nations on Murders of Arab Land Dealers

May 22, 1997
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Israel is planning to lodge a formal complaint with the United Nations Committee on Human Rights about the murders of Palestinians who sold land to Jews.

Israeli Cabinet Secretary Danny Naveh said Wednesday that the Palestinian Authority’s recent declaration that selling land to Jews is an offense punishable by death was racist and reeks of anti-Semitism.

The U.N. committee decided two years ago to deal with anti-Semitic incidents worldwide.

Two Palestinians suspected of selling land to Jews were murdered this month. Israel has accused the Palestinian Authority of involvement in the slayings.

While Palestinian officials have denied any responsibility, Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat reiterated this week that the death penalty was a legitimate defense against Israeli settlement activity.

In an interview with the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot, Arafat said the death penalty was first imposed by Jordan in 1967, after Israel captured the territory from West Bank.

“How should we call our own who serve the Israeli policy of dispossession? They are isolated traitors and we will act against them according to the law,” he was quoted as saying.

Arafat’s remarks prompted a sharp rebuke from the United States.

After weeks of qualified criticism, the State Department lambasted Arafat and his deputies for their “reprehensible” statements on the murders of Arab land dealers.

“I don’t think we have heard from the Palestinians the kind of resounding renunciation of violence that one would hope to hear,” said State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns.

In the Knesset, Public Security Minister Avigdor Kahalani denounced Arafat’s remarks, saying that they are feeding directly into a cycle of violence. He said Israel would do its part to protect eastern Jerusalem Arabs.

In a related development, Israeli officials expressed concern Wednesday about increasing Arab offers to purchase land in Israel from Jews.

Haim Cohen, the deputy chairman of the Jewish National Fund, said he believed senior Palestinian Authority officials were behind these efforts, and he knew of at least one such sale in north Jerusalem.

The JNF board of directors has decided to take extensive actions to prevent the sale of land in Israel to non-Jews, even if that requires getting bank loans to acquire the land.

The dispute over land has been at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Talks have been stalled since March, when Israel broke ground for a new Jewish neighborhood at Har Homa, in southeastern Jerusalem. The Palestinians viewed the move as a unilateral step aimed at altering the status quo in Jerusalem before final-status talks on its future.

A shuttle mission by U.S. Middle East envoy Dennis Ross ended last week without getting the sides to resume negotiations.

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