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US opposes Netanyahu's idea of revoking residency of East Jerusalem Palestinians

The Israeli settlement of Gilo is seen behind the Jewish state's controversial separation barrier in a picture taken from the West Bank city of Bethlehem, on August 24, 2009
Musa al-Shaer (AFP/File)
Move would include those living beyond separation barrier

The Obama administration was quick to warn Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about revoking the residency of tens of thousands of East Jerusalem Palestinians.  

Josh Earnest, the spokesman for the White House, said that the Israeli government is not yet actively considering this change, as far as the American government knows. However, he said that if Israel were to consider this move it would be concerning to the United States. Earnest said that given the current wave of violence, the US wants to reiterate the “importance of all sides avoiding provocative actions and rhetoric.”

Netanyahu recently raised the possibility of canceling the residency status of some of the 80,000 Palestinians who reside in East Jerusalem neighborhoods beyond the controversial separation barrier, sources in the prime minister's bureau have said.

Netanyahu's remarks were made during a cabinet meeting that took place two weeks ago about how to deal the escalating violence in the city and preventing East Jerusalem residents from carrying out attacks on Israelis.

According to the sources, the prime minister said that Israel should consider revoking the resident status of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, and called for a separate meeting to discuss the matter.

"There is no enforcement there, no law," Netanyahu said, according to Israel's Channel Two. "We need to examine the possibility of canceling their residency. There needs to be a discussion about it."

Netanyahu said the Palestinians in those neighborhoods do not fulfill the duties of Israeli residents but do enjoy the rights that the State of Israel gives them, officials in the prime minister's bureau said.

Abbas Momani (AFP/File)

In 1967, Israel granted East Jerusalem Palestinians permanent residency status -- a blue ID card giving them access to social benefits and health care, but they do not have Israeli citizenship.

Netanyahu's proposal could potentially have dramatic implications because of the sensitivity of the separation barrier and the explosive political issue of dividing Jerusalem.

Israel began building the barrier of walls and fences inside the West Bank and around Jerusalem in 2002 at the height of the second Palestinian intifada (uprising), saying it was crucial for security.

The Palestinians see it as a land grab aimed at stealing part of their future state and call it the "apartheid wall". UN figures show that around two-thirds of the barrier is so far complete.

The network of towering concrete walls, barbed-wire fences, trenches and closed military roads will extend 712 kilometers when finished, separating the West Bank from Israel, 85 percent of its length running through Palestinian land.

The issue of diving Jerusalem is an extremely sensitive point in Israel, one that repeatedly leads to hot debate among politicians from all sides of the political spectrum.

AFP

Throughout his recent election campaign, Netanyahu repeatedly accused left wing parties of being ready to abandon Israel's claim to Jerusalem as its indivisible capital in peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

Many on the right are strongly opposed to giving up any of Jerusalem to the Palestinians as they see Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the Jewish people that should never again be divided. Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967 and later annexed it in a move never recognized by the international community.

The neighborhoods that Netanyahu mentioned as part of his latest proposals are within Jerusalem's municipal boundaries but in fact lie outside the separation barrier and are considered extremely problematic from a security perspective.

This was the first time Netanyahu or anyone in his party has raised the possibility of differentiating between a part of East Jerusalem and the rest of the city.

Earlier this month, Netanyahu ordered a halt to the placement of any more barriers around Jerusalem's Arab neighborhoods after several lawmakers criticized the move as a de facto division of the city.

A stormy security cabinet meeting at the time was derailed after ministers began arguing over photos of the mobile concrete barriers in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber.

The concrete barrier, each about 2.5 meters (yards) high and two meters long, within the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber, to protect residents of the nearby Jewish neighborhood of Armon Hanatziv (East Talpiot) from rock and firebomb attacks.

'Deadline for ending occupation'

The Palestinians announced Sunday that the PLO and Arab League were preparing a motion for the UN Security Council which will set a deadline for ending what they call Israel's occupation of the West Bank.

Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s steering and monitoring committee, said during a press conference in the Palestinian embassy in Cairo, that Palestinians will also request international protection in the Security Council.

Erekat travelled to Cairo direct from Amman in order to update the Arab League secretary general Nabil Elaraby and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry on his talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday.

Kerry met Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday as part of an international diplomatic push to quell a wave of deadly Israeli-Palestinian violence.

Kerry, who held talks with Netanyahu in Berlin last Thursday, later went into a meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah II, custodian of Jerusalem's flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound.

The top US diplomat and Abbas both expressed guarded optimism as they began their talks, which came a day after more than 80 people were wounded in clashes between Palestinians and Israeli troops in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Kerry told reporters he was "hopeful", without elaborating, while Abbas said: "All the time we have the hope."

The latest wave of violence erupted over the status of the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, which is sacred to both Jews and Muslims and has long been a crucible for tensions fuelling the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Netanyahu has repeatedly accused Abbas of fanning the flames by suggesting Israel wants to change the status quo at the site under which Jews are allowed to visit but not pray.

Erekat said Saturday that Netanyahu had "changed the status of the Al-Aqsa mosque -- that's why we and Jordan are asking the American side to re-establish the situation".

"The king has guardianship over Al-Aqsa mosque and the holy places and will not allow this manipulation by Netanyahu," he told reporters after the Abbas-Kerry meeting.

(With AFP)

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