Erekat on Recent Israeli Provocations in and around Jerusalem Holy Sites

Press Releases
February 09, 2007

Erekat to Israel: “Immediately Halt…Provocations in Occupied East Jerusalem [which] Undermine Fragile Opportunity for Peace” 

Last night, the major Palestinian parties agreed to form a government of national unity. Today, clashes erupted in occupied East Jerusalem between Palestinians and Israeli police over Israeli unilateral actions in and around Jerusalem holy sites.

Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erekat called on Israel to “stop the bulldozers now and immediately halt dangerous provocations in occupied East Jerusalem.”

On Tuesday, Israel began construction work on an entrance to the Haram Al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary—the site where Muslims believe the Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven. The entrance, known as the Al-Magharbeh gate road, is considered to be part of Haram Al-Sharif and includes two rooms that lead to another mosque in the Holy complex.

Israel says the work is renovation. Palestinians and Muslims fear the work could damage the ancient site—fears bolstered by extremist Jewish groups who seek to destroy the compound and rebuild the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, which they believe was located on the site.

“Whatever the motivation for this work,” stated Mr. Erekat, “these unilateral provocations threaten to undermine a fragile opportunity for peace.” Mr. Erekat said the newly-negotiated Palestinian government “was formed in large measure to jumpstart peace negotiations with Israel.”

The Haram Al-Sharif is under the administrative jurisdiction of the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Any work potentially affecting the Haram Al-Sharif must be coordinated with the Waqf, according to an agreement with Israel. Current work was not coordinated with the Waqf, in violation of the agreement.

Israeli authorities previously prevented the Islamic Waqf from repairing the entrance.

Mr. Erekat stressed that “Israel has no right to engage in unilateral actions in East Jerusalem.” Virtually the entire world, including the United States, regards East Jerusalem as occupied, meaning that Israel has no right to unilaterally annex parts of it or to apply Israeli law there. According to the 1993 Oslo Accords, the final status of all of Jerusalem is to be agreed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Mr. Erekat called on the international community to “keep its eyes on the ball: getting Palestinians and Israelis to the negotiating table so that they can finally bring their children meaningful hope.

After nearly 40 years of occupation, enough is enough. Recent provocations, however, risk bulldozing us back into the abyss, just when we believed we might finally be able to move forward.”

Mr. Erekat cited a series of other Israeli projects in and around the compound that Palestinians fear could damage it. He added that Israeli settlement and Wall activity in and around occupied East Jerusalem is “potentially just as injurious [as works around the Old City] to achieving a viable and just peace.”

In particular, Mr. Erekat noted that “none of the conflict we are witnessing today would be happening if Israel would just abide by international law and build the Wall on its own territory.”

Jerusalem’s Old City lies on the West Bank side of the internationally-recognized boundary between Israel and the occupied West Bank, the Green Line. In July 2004, the International Court of Justice deemed all sections of the Wall built in the occupied West Bank illegal, including those in occupied East Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem section of the Wall is nearing completion and is currently scheduled to run 14 kilometers east of Jerusalem’s Old City and the Green Line.  

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