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Issues Of Sovereignty & Land Sales Hover Over East Jerusalem Arrests

Israel has arrested 32 east Jerusalem residents it suspects of illegally carrying out activities on behalf of the Palestinian Authority

Israeli police arrested 32 east Jerusalem residents on Monday, claiming they carried out activities on behalf of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA). If proven true, their activities would violate the ’90s-era Oslo Accords prohibiting PA personnel from operating within Israel.

Just a day earlier, Israeli police arrested the PA governor of Jerusalem Adnan Ghaith for money-related offenses, according to Israel’s Shin Bet domestic security agency. The police had already detained Ghaith last month for conducting “illegal activity” under PA auspices in Jerusalem.

Following the arrests, the police issued a statement claiming the suspects were Israeli residents who either serve in or support the PA’s security forces. It added that raids on their homes uncovered weapons, ammunition, large sums of shekels, as well as PA uniforms and documents. The suspects appeared in a Jerusalem court for a preliminary hearing on Monday.

“The arrests were by and large the Israeli response to the PA’s arrest of an Arab landowner in east Jerusalem,” Dr. Ido Zelkovitz, a Policy Fellow at the Mitvim Institute and head of Middle East Studies at Yezreel Valley College, told The Media Line.

Zelkovitz was referring to Esam Aqel, a U.S. citizen from east Jerusalem, whom the PA arrested on suspicion he sold Arab-owned property in the Old City to an Israeli-Jewish organization.

“But what the Israeli government wants to do is take advantage of this specific event and to show its strength and claim of sovereignty over east Jerusalem. It also wants to deliver a message to the PA that if the latter arrests people with an Israeli citizenship or a blue ID card [issued to Jerusalem residents], it will in turn arrest Palestinians who also live in east Jerusalem,” Zelkovitz said.

“The issue of selling land and creating Jewish pockets in east Jerusalem is a very sensitive issue from a Palestinian perspective. The city is at the center of mistrust and tension between Israel and the Palestinians,” he added.

“We will likely see this struggle continue in the future because if the PA wants to launch a popular resistance campaign against Israel, east Jerusalem is the best place from which to do so. The PA does not have direct responsibility for running everyday life in the city, making it easier for it to concentrate its efforts there. It is also a religious symbol and the center of Palestinian national aspirations.”

This is why Israel has been paying a lot of attention to PA activities in the eastern half of the city, Zelkovitz explained, but concluded that this “atmosphere of tension, at the end of the day, could heighten violence and work against both sides in favor of Hamas.”

Ziad abu-Ziad, Fatah’s international media spokesperson, told The Media Line that “Israel’s actions are illegal; it is launching a war on the Palestinian leadership in east Jerusalem despite the fact that the U.N. General Assembly and international law recognizes the area as the capital of the Palestinian state.”

The Orient House, which was the headquarters of the PLO in east Jerusalem, was opened after the Oslo Accords, and there have always been PLO activists in the area, he explained.

“But Israeli authorities, in a hostile action, made a decision to prevent any kind of Palestinian leadership from emerging in east Jerusalem, as well as to destroy its social fabric and prevent any kind of political activism. These policies are simply part of an apartheid system,” abu-Ziad added.

Commenting on the land sale issue, abu-Ziad concluded that “there are extreme right-wing Israeli organizations, supported by the Israeli government, that are using the bad social and economic situation in the city to push Palestinians into selling their properties to Israeli organizations that turn them into settlements.”

Israel captured and annexed east Jerusalem following the Six Day War in 1967, a move the international community has not recognized. Sovereignty over the city has remained a major bone of contention in peace talks.

Last May, U.S. President Donald Trump made good on his promise to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital by moving the U.S. Embassy there from Tel Aviv. His position on east Jerusalem as the future capital of a Palestinian state remains to be seen.