Israel's Celebration of Jerusalem Raises Eyebrows 3,000th Anniversary of Once-Divided City Is Marked by Controversy over Its Status as Center of Three Religions

Article excerpt

AS Israel launches a 15-month celebration of Jerusalem's 3,000th birthday, the ancient holy city is again embroiled in a controversy over Israeli and Palestinian claims to have Jerusalem as their capital.

But this time the wrangling is likely to rage unabated until the turn of the century. The final status of Jerusalem should be settled under the 1993 Israeli-Palestinian peace accord by then, and tens of thousands of Christian pilgrims are expected to descend on the city for the 2,000th birthday of Jesus of Nazareth.

The ever-present tensions over Jerusalem resurfaced due to a sequence of events over the past two weeks.

Last week, Islamic extremists set off the worst bomb attack in Jerusalem since the Israeli-Palestine Liberation Organization peace deal was signed in 1993. Five people were killed, and more than 100 others injured.

On Monday, the Israeli government closed three Palestinian offices linked to PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority (PA), which Israel claims are operating in contravention of the Israeli-Palestinian self-rule accord.

Israel issued an ultimatum for the three offices either to cease operating or show that they had cut all links with the PA.

Palestinian negotiators indicated Wednesday that a compromise could be in the offing, but the order has angered Mr. Arafat. His spokesman, Marwan Kanafani, yesterday said the order would be contested in a court, but he did not specify whether it would be an Israeli or international court.

But Orient House, the PLO headquarters and the focus of controversy over PLO presence in Jerusalem, has not been included in the closure order.

Next Monday, Israel launches a 15-month program of festivities to mark the 3,000th birthday of Jerusalem, but the celebration is already embroiled in controversy.

Muslim religious leaders, some Christian leaders, and international bodies - notably the European Union - have indicated that they will snub the festivities because they regard them as one-sided. They say Jewish history of the city is emphasized at the expense of Muslim and Christian history.

The EU notified Israel earlier this month that it would boycott all events held under the "Jerusalem 3,000" celebration and withdraw subsidies for EU-funded bodies included in the official program.

Muslim leaders argue that Jerusalem 3,000 is a thinly veiled effort to influence world opinion regarding Israel's claim of perpetual sovereignty over the holy city in advance of negotiations on the final status of the city due to begin in May 1996 under the phased Israel-PLO peace accord.

Until the 1967 Arab-Israeli conflict, Jerusalem was a divided city like Berlin used to be, with walls and Israeli military checkpoints separating Arab East Jerusalem from Jewish West Jerusalem.

Since Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 war, it has administered the holy city as Israel's undivided capital. The Jewish population of Jerusalem has swelled to about 405,000, while the Palestinian population is estimated at about 155,000.

But the Israeli population of East Jerusalem, which recently surpassed the Palestinian population, has grown from zero in 1967 to 160,000 today as a result of Israeli settlement in the area.

"As far as we are concerned, Jerusalem is a divided city," Faisal Husseini, the PLO's senior representative in Jerusalem told an interfaith religious conference held in Jerusalem's Old City this week. …


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