Clinton Slams Israel for Evicting Arab Families From East Jerusalem

Egypt sharply criticizes move as 'sabotaging' its efforts to advance a regional peace process.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday criticized Israel for the eviction two Palestinian families from an Arab neighborhood in east Jerusalem, calling the move "deeply regrettable".

"The eviction of families and demolition of homes in east Jerusalem is not in keeping with Israeli obligations and I urge the government of Israel and municipal officials to refrain from such provocative actions," Clinton said.

The evictions came after the Supreme Court ruled that the houses belonged to Jews and that the Arab families had been living there illegally.

Clinton's statements came during a meeting in Washington with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, who told Clinton that incremental confidence-building measures that the U.S. wants Arab states to take will not produce a resolution to the conflict.

Assistant Secretary of State, Philip J. Crowley, also indicated in a that the Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren was summoned following the eviction, adding that "acting Assistant Secretary Jeffrey Feltman had a conversation with the Israeli ambassador. He expressed our concerns, and he promised to report those concerns back to the Israeli Government."

Jordan rejects U.S. call for improved ties with IsraelJordan on Monday joined Saudi Arabia in publicly rejecting U.S. appeals to improve relations with Israel to help restart Middle East peace talks, throwing a damper on the Obama administration's push for Arab support behind new negotiations.

As Clinton looked on at a State Department press conference, Judeh said only a focus on the final settlement would work.

"In the Middle East, there has been in the past an over-investment, perhaps, by the parties in pursuing confidence-building measures, conflict-management techniques, including transitional arrangements, and an overemphasis on gestures, perhaps at the expense of reaching the actual end game," he said.

Judeh said that piecemeal approaches that never lead to peace and that have proven repeatedly to be confidence-eroding, rather than confidence-building must be avoided.

And, he criticized Israel for its refusal to halt construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and said the Israelis should respond to a 2002 Arab peace offer.

"Now, in 2009, many would say it is time for Israel to reciprocate," he said.

Judeh added that President Obama's Cairo speech and the unequivocal position of the new Administration helped 'to restore the perception of American impartiality' in the Arab world.

His comments marked the second time in three days that an Arab foreign minister bluntly refused U.S. calls to improve ties with Israel with confidence-building measures such as opening trade offices, allowing academic exchanges and permitting civilian Israeli aircraft to use their airspace as a way of demonstrating their commitment to peace.

On Friday, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal expressed similar sentiments, also at a news conference with Clinton. Unlike Jordan, though, which has signed a peace deal with Israel, Saudi Arabia does not recognize the Israel.

Despite the statements, Clinton maintained that U.S. special Mideast Peace envoy George Mitchell was making progress and praised Jordan for its playing a strong and vital role in the region and expressed hope that negotiations could soon resume.

"We are working with the Israelis, the Palestinian Authority and Arab states to take the steps needed to make that possible," she said. "The foreign minister and I discussed this effort, and I expressed our deep appreciation for Jordan's leadership in working with other Arab states to support peace with deeds, as well as words."

Also Monday, Clinton held a video conference with a number of American diplomats regarding Iran, but refused to get into discussion with reporters on her perspective regarding the possible sanctions.

"We're not going to be commenting on what might be done. We wish to engage with the Iranians, and we continue to to try to engage in multilateral channels, and we have not received a response to that too. We are looking closely to developments in Iran. We're not prepared to talk about specific steps, but in the absence of some positive response, the international community will discuss the next steps which can include certain sanctions," she said.

Egypt sharply protests Sheikh Jarrah evictions

Egypt sent a strongly worded protest to Israel yesterday over the eviction of two Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.

"This is an act of dispossessing Arabs of their property," the message said, according to an Israeli government source. "Israel's moves are sabotaging Egypt's efforts to advance the regional peace process."

"We demand that you stop the expulsion and oppression of Jerusalem Arabs," the message continued. "Any change on the ground in Jerusalem must be in the framework of peace talks with the Palestinian Authority."

The message was delivered to Ambassador to Cairo Shalom Cohen by Hossam Zaki, who is Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit's bureau chief and has often served as his envoy to Israel, the government source said.

Cohen tried to explain that the homes in question have been Jewish-owned for more than 80 years, and the eviction was ordered by a court because the Palestinian tenants violated the terms of their rental contract. However, this failed to mollify Zaki.

Sweden, which holds the European Union's rotating presidency, also denounced the evictions yesterday, terming them "unacceptable." Such acts are "illegal under international law" and "contravene repeated calls by the international community ... to refrain from any provocative actions in East Jerusalem," it said in a statement.

The evictions "confirm a worrying trend that runs counter to the creation of an atmosphere conducive to achieving a viable and credible solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the statement added.

The two families were evicted before dawn on Sunday by hundreds of policemen, after the Jerusalem District Court ordered their departure. Jewish families have already entered in their stead, with the consent of the owner, the Sephardic Community Committee, which has owned both houses since before the establishment of the state.

The evicted families, Palestinians who fled West Jerusalem during the War of Independence in 1948, were settled in these houses by the United Nations and the Jordanian government, which captured East Jerusalem during that war. When Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967, the courts awarded the families protected tenant status. However, the district court ruled, even protected tenants must abide by the terms of their rental contracts, and these tenants failed to do so.