Israeli officials have asked the Biden administration to put pressure on the Palestinians to have the families in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood agree to the compromise suggested Monday by Israel’s Supreme Court in a high-profile eviction case.
The court suggested that the families be allowed to remain in their homes under “protected residents” status; the locals would have to pay a small rental fee to a settler group that acquired the rights to the land that once belonged to Jewish families.
The Israeli approach to the White House in recent days came on the expectation that the compromise might also reduce international pressure over the possible eviction.
“The international pressure on the Sheikh Jarrah issue needs to be deflected to the Palestinian sector,” an Israeli diplomatic source said following the request to the Biden administration. “The compromise presented by the justices is good for the Palestinian residents at the site and could get them down from their tree.”
Another Israeli source said the White House was concerned about the eviction issue but was not applying pressure because it realizes that the decision is not in the hands of Israeli politicians but rather the judiciary, which he said is “independent, serious” and not likely to be unduly influenced.
Israeli officials are worried that the court’s decision might leave the country in an unprecedented diplomatic confrontation, even with allies.
In recent months, the Biden administration has repeatedly expressed concerns about the possible eviction of residents from Sheikh Jarrah. Both King Abdullah of Jordan and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have warned U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken that the Israeli action would have consequences. Blinken then quickly briefed Israeli officials.
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Sheikh Jarrah became a point of concern for the Biden administration in May, as tensions in Jerusalem around the potential eviction of the 13 Palestinian families helped spark the 11 days of fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.
While U.S. officials quietly asked Israel in early May to stop the evictions, official readouts simply stated that the United States had “serious concerns about the potential evictions.” As Israeli security forces violently confronted protesters in East Jerusalem and the violence spread to the Temple Mount, the administration issued statements on its “deep concern” over the matter.
Outrage among Democratic lawmakers in Congress resulted in perhaps the greatest condemnation of Israeli policy in the party. Democrats harshly criticized Israel’s actions in Sheikh Jarrah, with many saying the White House was not properly holding Israel accountable.
Some of these lawmakers urged Blinken to put pressure on Israel to block the evictions; 25 of them called the plans a clear violation of both international and U.S. law.
The high profile of many of these lawmakers – as well as the rare full-throated condemnations of Israel – helped bring the matter to international attention. In addition to the media coverage around the world, there was attention from celebrities, athletes, musicians, actors and other pop culture figures with massive followings.
Several progressive Democrats have continued to focus on Sheikh Jarrah in recent weeks, even as it faded from front pages around the world. In recent days, State Department officials have called on the Israeli government to block the evictions.
“We have made this point before,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said Monday. “Families should not be evicted from homes in which they have lived for decades. We’re not going to get into these emerging reports or to comment on various detailed legal discussions, but we’re closely following them and will continue to do so.”
Last week, State Department deputy spokeswoman Jalina Porter said the United States “encourages Israeli authorities to avoid other evictions and actions that exacerbate tensions and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution, and we welcome the Israeli court’s decision to delay the eviction of a number of families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah.”
Porter and Price’s comments are the most recent example of the administration voicing its displeasure with Israeli actions, weeks after the U.S. Embassy in Israel announced the demolition of the family home of a Palestinian-American who killed an Israeli and wounded two others in the West Bank in May.