Sunday, December 2, 2018

Israel, Palestinians jockey over Jerusalem in Trump era

AP, Jerusalem  :
President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital has set off an increasingly visible battle in the city's eastern sector - with an emboldened Israel seeking to cement its control over the contested area and Palestinians pushing back to maintain their limited foothold.
In recent weeks, Israel has arrested dozens of Palestinian activists for alleged illegal political activity. It demolished Palestinian shops for failing to have permits, a court has cleared the way for settlers to move in to an Arab neighborhood and the city's outgoing mayor is trying to close the east Jerusalem operations of the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees.
The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, in turn, has boosted efforts to protect its claim on Jerusalem, attempting to block east Jerusalem Palestinians from selling properties to Jews - a major taboo that it is largely powerless to prevent.
"The change in the U.S. position on Jerusalem under Trump's administration has unleashed the Israeli hands to increase and escalate its measures that aim to change the features of the city from a Palestinian city to an Israeli one," said Walid Salem, a Palestinian analyst in Jerusalem. "The Palestinian Authority feels the heat and is stepping up measures to resist this Israeli policy."
The conflicting claims to east Jerusalem lie at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel captured the area, home to the city's most sensitive religious sites, in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it, claiming the entire city as its capital. But the annexation is not internationally recognized, and the Palestinians seek east Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.
A year ago, Trump upended decades of American policy and recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
"We finally acknowledge the obvious: that Jerusalem is Israel's capital," Trump said at the time. Several months later, he moved the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, thrilling Israel and enraging the Palestinians. Speaking at the embassy dedication ceremony in May, Netanyahu said: "We are in Jerusalem and we are here to stay."
Although Trump has said his decision would not determine the city's final borders, it has been seen by both Israel and the Palestinians as taking sides.
Israel's hawkish government has been energized by the backing of its American ally in its quest to keep Jerusalem what it considers to be its eternal, undivided capital.
The Palestinians have for years accused Israel of taking steps to fortify its hold on the city, primarily by encircling Arab neighborhoods in east Jerusalem with Jewish settlements. These settlements, considered by Israel to be neighborhoods of its capital, are now home to over 200,000 Israelis.
Criticism from previous U.S. administrations has often held Israel back in the past. With the reins removed, Israel has carried out a flurry of moves, often jostling with Palestinians along the way.
"Around 300, 000 Palestinian live in east Jerusalem," said Adnan Husseini, the Palestinian minister of Jerusalem affairs. "They have always resisted the Israeli occupation measures in the city and they always will."
In an unusual step, Israel arrested the top Palestinian official in Jerusalem this week along with over 30 Palestinian Jerusalemites, accusing them of the rarely enforced offense of serving in the Palestinian security forces in violation of previous agreements with Israel. Most were released on bail, but the governor, Adnan Ghaith, remains in custody.