Israel extends closure of Palestinian offices in E. Jerusalem
PA officials say Israel had promised to reopen think tank, chamber of commerce and other offices.
Israel is keeping Palestinian institutions in east Jerusalem shut tight, despite its pledge to reopen them under a recently revived peace blueprint, Palestinian officials said Thursday.
This month, the officials said, Israel renewed its order to close a leading Palestinian think tank known as Orient House, the city 's Arab Chamber of Commerce and other symbolic buildings that are a rallying point for the Palestinians' claims to Jerusalem's eastern sector as capital of a future state.
Israel police shut down the institutions in 2001, shortly after the relaunch of the Palestinian uprising against Israel, and has since issued orders every six months renewing the closure.
Azzam Abu Saoud, director of the 72-year-old Chamber of Commerce, said the closure order was extended on Feb. 7 despite the renewal of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians and Israel's commitment to implement the internationally endorsed road map peace plan.
At an international peace gathering in Annapolis, Maryland, in November, Israel and the Palestinians agreed to immediately implement their respective obligations under the performance-based road map.
Initial obligations require Israel to reopen the Palestinian Chamber of Commerce and other Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem.
"Despite all the expectations the closure order was renewed for another six months," Abu Saoud told The Associated Press.
U.S. consular officials asked for copies of the order, which he provided, he said.
The United States Consulate-General in Jerusalem had no immediate comment.
An adviser to Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said the 2001 closure order on another prominent Palestinian institution, the PLO think-tank known as Orient House, was also renewed a few days ago.
"I think this is against the promise of [Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert to reopen the Palestinian institutions, said the adviser," Hatem Abdel Khader, a Jerusalem delegate to the Palestinian parliament. This is a promise he made to us and to [U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza] Rice. This is not a good sign for the peace process."
Abdel Khader said Orient House officials were working on economic and social projects from facilities outside Jerusalem. He said they had been in touch with the U.S. consulate over the extension, but were told the issue was unlikely to be resolved quickly.
"They told us they need time to negotiate with the Israelis," he said.
An Israel Police spokesman could not confirm the recent extension of the building's closure, but said officers visited the East Jerusalem mansion periodically to ensure that it was not being used, citing a law prohibiting Palestinian political activity in the city.
"I am not aware of any change in our policy," Olmert spokesman Mark Regev told the AP.
When the Orient House originally was shut down, Israel said it did not intend to retain permanent control of the building but would only withdraw after its owners provide guarantees that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Palestinian Authority would not operate there.
Abdel Khader said the Palestinians had given the necessary assurances to the Israelis, adding that the office was to be used for cultural, economic and social projects.
Orient House is owned by the Husseinis, a prominent Palestinian clan in Jerusalem. The scion of the family, the late Faisal Husseini, was the top Jerusalem official of the Palestine Liberation Organization and used the Orient House as his base.