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Israel under fire for pushing arabs out of east jerusalem

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By Linda Gradstein


East Jerusalem, at the crux of the conflict between Jews and Palestinians for more than 40 years, is more contested than ever this week in light of several reports that suggest Israel is pursuing a deliberate policy of "judaizing" the city Palestinians view as their future capital.

A classified European Union report, leaked to the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, slams Israeli policy in East Jerusalem and calls on EU countries to help strengthen Palestinian claims to the city. The Israeli government is particularly concerned at indications that the EU may soon officially recognize East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state.

In addition, an Israeli human rights group says Israel is stripping more and more Palestinians of their Jerusalem residency permits. On Monday, Palestinians and Jews clashed after an Israeli court ruled that the Palestinian family living in a house had no right to occupy an addition they had built onto the house and that settlers could move in.

The classified EU report, which was drafted by European consuls in Jerusalem and the West Bank town of Ramallah, accuses the Israeli government and the municipality of Jerusalem of working deliberately to change the city's demographic balance and sever East Jerusalem from the West Bank. Today, some 200,000 Israelis and 250,000 Palestinians live in East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed 1967 in a move never recognized by the international community. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to never relinquish Israel's control over all of Jerusalem, while the Palestinians insist that East Jerusalem will be the capital of a future Palestinian state. The U.S. position has been that Jerusalem is one of several "core issues" that must be resolved through negotiations. The report suggests, however, that Israel is working before any such negotiations to create facts on the ground. The EU report says that although 35 percent of greater Jerusalem's residents are Arab, only 5 to 10 percent of the city's budget goes to Arab neighborhoods. It also says that Palestinians have received fewer than 200 building permits per year over the past several years, while they need another 1,500 housing units per year. The report calls on the EU to become more active to secure Palestinian control over Jerusalem. Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor confirmed that Ha'aretz had faithfully rendered the report, even as he maintained that it contains errors of fact. "The consuls never contact the Israeli government on any of this, so it is based exclusively on Palestinian information," he said. "Some of the information is simply incorrect." For example, he said, the report says there are no Palestinians on the Jerusalem city council but fails to mention that Palestinians can participate in municipal elections but choose not to as a political statement. Palmor said he is more concerned about a second document being circulated by Sweden, which currently holds the presidency of the EU. It calls on European foreign ministers to recognize East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state. The proposal is set to be discussed at a two-day meeting in Brussels next week on the peace process. Israeli officials say if adopted, it would be a major change from the current international position. "This would recognize Palestinian claims to East Jerusalem but not Israeli claims to West Jerusalem," said Palmor. "The situation with Sweden has become quite tense." Israeli officials are bracing for further criticism over East Jerusalem after a human rights group Tuesday said that Israel last year stripped Palestinians of Jerusalem residency status at a much faster rate than ever before. HaMoked, the Center for the Defense of the Individual, said that 4,577 residents of East Jerusalem had their residence revoked last year. The report comes just a week after Israel announced it will build 900 homes for Jews in the neighborhood of Gilo, which is on land annexed to the Jerusalem municipal borders in 1967. Jerusalem residency enables Palestinians to move freely throughout the city and Israel. Residents are also entitled to Israeli health care and social security, unlike Palestinians who live in Gaza or the West Bank. Palestinians say taking away the residency status is part of a continual Israeli process to "judaize" East Jerusalem and make it impossible for it to become the capital of a Palestinian state. Further clashes on the ancient city's status — both between Jews and Palestinians and between Israel and the international community — seem inevitable.