Hatem Abdel Qader - Eyal Warshavsky - 30122011
Hatem Abdel Qader, the PA’s minister for Jerusalem affairs. Photo by Eyal Warshavsky
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Hatem Abdel Qader, one of the leaders of Fatah in Jerusalem, was questioned last week by the police over his part in forcing the cancelation of two Israeli-Palestinian conferences in East Jerusalem.

A plain-clothes detective told Abdel Qader, who holds Fatah's Jerusalem portfolio, that preventing such events is a blow to Israeli sovereignty, and only the Israel Police has the authority to cancel a conference.

On Wednesday, December 21, after a Facebook protest and threats over the telephone, a conference sponsored by the Palestine-Israel Journal was canceled. The conference was on how the Arab Spring had influenced the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The journal, which was founded in 1994 by Ziad Abu Zayyad and Victor Cygielman to encourage dialogue between civil society on both sides and broaden the base of support for the peace process, has held such dialogues for years without any trouble, with both Israelis and Palestinians participating.

A week earlier, Palestinian protesters broke into the Ambassador Hotel, where the first conference of the Israeli Palestinian Confederation was being held. The confederation is a movement to establish a "third government" that would be chosen by a joint Israeli-Palestinian parliament. A second conference on the same subject was scheduled to be held at the same time in Beit Jala, and it too was canceled.

East Jerusalem sources said that Abdel Qader in particular and Fatah's Jerusalem branch in general were the driving force behind opposition to the events, though there were also vigorous public protests on Facebook.

While the confederation conference was stopped as it was beginning, the conference on the Arab Spring was canceled in advance: The management of the Legacy Hotel in East Jerusalem decided to cancel it after learning of the planned demonstrations against it.

Abdel Qader did not deny his central role on Thursday, but he also said the Palestine-Israel Journal's conference was targeted unjustly, due solely to its being held so close to the confederation conference.

The confederation's publications present Israel and Palestine as two symmetric entities, as if there were no occupation. Therefore, such a conference could be categorized as "normalization" of the occupation, he said. Moreover, a poster put up by "The National and Islamic Forces" in Jerusalem cited an earlier confederation conference in which settlers participated along with other Israelis and Palestinians.

"The decision to oppose meetings even with left-wing Israeli activists is temporary, and derives from the sense of deep frustration prevailing in Jerusalem," Abdel Qader said. "The opposition to meetings with settlers is permanent and on principle."

Abdel Qader has participated in many meetings with Israelis in the past, but he said Fatah has decided to oppose any political conference that could be described as Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Such conferences undermine the official Palestinian position of not resuming negotiations with the Israeli government as long as construction in the settlements continues, he explained, by creating the impression that there are Palestinians willing to negotiate.