Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmad Qurei warned Tuesday that, ‘without Jerusalem there will be no peace’ with Israel.
‘Peace starts in Jerusalem and ends there. Peace starts by recognising our right to return, to self-determination, the establishment of an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital and the cessation of settlement construction,’ he said.
The planned Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and a tiny part of the northern West Bank, scheduled for mid-August, ‘will be meaningless as long as Israel continues to build the (Apartheid) wall and isolate Jerusalem,’ Qurei said.
He spoke amid reports that the Israeli Occupation Jewish municipality of the Holy City has approved a Housing Ministry plan to build a synagogue and 30 settler units exclusively for Israeli Jews.
The site is close to Islam’s third holiest site of Al-Aqsa Mosque in the exclusively Palestinian quarter of Bab el-Sahera inside the historical wall of the Old City.
Israeli policy of creating ‘facts on the ground’ in the occupied city to prejudge its final status has sparked bloody violence in the past.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s provocative visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, when he was the opposition leader, on September 28 2000, ignited the five-year old Palestinian Al-Aqsa Intifada (uprising) against the 38-year-old Israeli occupation.
The new plan could be even more incendiary, because it does not involve private property transactions, but is backed by the Israeli government.
The Maariv daily newspaper said the plan involves building homes and a synagogue in the heart of the Muslim Quarter.
‘It is clear that when the first tractor puts down the first stone it will lead to the next uprising and could have international impact,’ Israeli city council member Yosef Alalu warned.
The plan, which was approved last Monday, would violate a city ban on building within 10 metres of the Old City wall, Alalu said.
The city engineer, Uri Shetrit, initially opposed the plan, Alalu added. The municipality said Shetrit is not permitted to speak to reporters.
The Old City and the eastern part of Jerusalem were occupied by Israel in June 1967 and unilaterally annexed it in a move that has not been recognised internationally.
It is divided into four residential quarters: Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Armenian.
In occupied Jerusalem, Israeli municipality planners on Monday approved by 5-2 votes, the construction of a new Jewish colony of 30 settler units and a synagogue inside the walled Old City’s Muslim Quarter, said Alalu on Tuesday.
The Housing Ministry presented the plan to the municipal planning board, a city spokesman said.
The plan has to go through several more bureaucratic stages before final approval.
A spokeswoman for Israel’s Housing Ministry said the plan was initiated by the previous housing minister and was not in the ministry’s budget for 2005. The plan also needs approval by the Interior ministry.
Ariel Sharon bought an apartment in the Old City in 1987. For several years, Sharon used the apartment to hold political meetings, but today rarely visits the heavily guarded compound.
The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) said Israel continues to create facts on the ground ahead of a peace deal that would determine the fate of occupied Jerusalem.
‘It will be like adding fuel to the fire, and we urge US intervention to block this decision,’ said the chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.
Also on Tuesday Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas reported ‘progress’ in coordination with Israel, following official meetings that resulted in the setting up of three joint operations rooms, an initial agreement on border crossing points, and a linkage between Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
Meanwhile, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmad Qurei rejected his Israeli counterpart Ariel Sharon’s latest threats to resort to ‘harsh’ and ‘unprecedented measures’ against Palestinian anti-occupation activists.
President Abbas met in Gaza on Tuesday with Qurei and other cabinet ministers, including Civil Affairs Minister Mohammed Dahlan.
He dismissed Sharon’s threats as something that ‘we have become used to.’
‘We are doing our duty and do what we are doing for the sake of the truce, which is in our interest and not due to threats,’ he told reporters.
Calling on all Palestinian groups to abide by the unofficial truce with Israel, Qurei on his part said this was the only way to invite international pressure on Israel to stop the construction of its Apartheid Wall and its ‘aggression’ against the Palestinian people.
‘Sharon’s threats don’t scare the Palestinian people. We reject the threats made by the Israeli prime minister,’ Qurei said during the weekly PNA cabinet meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
‘Israel has used all forms of sabotage: killing, house demolitions, collective punishment and siege,’ he said.
‘There isn’t any weapon that they haven’t used against our people, including planes and tanks,’ he added.
Instead of threats, Qurei advised Israel to use the language of dialogue in dealing with the Palestinians and expressed hope that the ‘disengagement’ would succeed so that both sides could return to the negotiating table.
Dahlan on Tuesday described the Israeli ‘gestures’ linked to the planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip as ‘good,’ following a meeting with Shaul Mofaz in Tel Aviv on Tuesday afternoon.
Both men agreed to return PNA policemen to border crossing points, build Gaza seaport and a system for passage of goods and people between Gaza Strip and the West Bank, Dahlan said.
‘We had a good meeting, at the heart of which we spoke about coordination on the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip,’ Dahlan told reporters in Gaza City after briefing President Abbas on his talks.
‘We also spoke about the question of ‘safe passages’ which will allow Palestinians to move freely between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip,’ via Israeli territory, he added.
Dahlan said Israel was also willing to allow Palestinians living abroad to visit the Gaza Strip. Such visits have been banned since the start of the Palestinian intifada in September 2000.
He added that Mofaz had ‘given the green light for the construction of a port at Gaza with warehouses built on the site of the (illegal Jewish) settlement of Netzarim’ which is due to be evacuated next month, along with all the other settlements in the Gaza Strip.
Ha’aretz reported Wednesday that both men also agreed to establish two joint teams that would deal with the military checkpoints; one would focus on improving the current checkpoint situation and the other would discuss how they would be controlled in the future.
Israel agreed to allow trucks from the West Bank city of Ramallah to travel directly to Gaza and unload merchandise there, but the issue requires additional technological means to examine the merchandise, and the technology is expensive, the Israeli daily said.
Mofaz and Dahlan also discussed demolishing settler homes in Gaza after the pullout. Two possibilities are being examined: paying a third party to crush the rubble and dispose of it, and letting the Palestinians do it. Mofaz gave Dahlan maps that detail the infrastructure Israel is leaving in Gaza.