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
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
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
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
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. …