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Publisher\Editor Don Canaan

                       Feb. 20, 1996 V4, #32
All the News the Big Guys Missed

Parties Get Tougher as Electioneering Starts

By Al Pessin (VOA-Jerusalem)

Israel's public security minister has said he will no longer allow foreign officials to visit the Palestinian Authority office in east Jerusalem. The move addresses an emotional issue for both sides, just as the Israeli election campaign is getting started.

Public Security Minister Moshe Shahal sent a letter to the Foreign Ministry, asking it to ensure foreign officials do not visit the Palestinian offices in a building known as Orient House.

Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 war and annexed it. But the Palestinians want it to be their future capital. In recent years, the PLO, and later the Palestinian Autonomy Authority, have operated offices in Orient House, carrying out a variety of functions including demographic research and press contacts.

The office has always been controversial in Israel, and the public security minister's announcement came just after the largest opposition party announced the future of Jerusalem will be its main issue in the campaign for elections expected in early June.The party said if elected it would close Orient House.

The Public Security Ministry spokesman, Eric Bar Chen, would not comment on the political implications of the minister's announcement. But he said Shahal has long opposed the flow of foreign ministers to Orient House. Bar Chen says the meetings hurt Israel's position on the Jerusalem issue, tend to make Orient House into a kind of Palestinian Foreign Ministry, and violate one of the Israeli-Palestinian peace agreements.

"Any official activity carried out by the Palestinian Authority must be carried out from within the territory under the Palestinian Authority, and not from anywhere else. This includes, of course, Gaza, Jericho, and the towns that have now been turned over in the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority. It does not include Jerusalem."

But Faisal Husseini, the Palestinian official in charge of Jerusalem affairs, who is based at Orient House, counters Shahal's move itself violates Israeli-Palestinian agreements.

"It is a violation for the agreements which are saying that everything in Jerusalem will (be) going on as it was until we will finish the permanent status negotiations. And it is forbidden for any side to make any unilateral steps which can affect the peace talks. And this step can affect badly not only the peace talks, but the whole peace process."

Husseini also called on foreign countries to defy the Israeli ban on visits to his headquarters. Many countries, including all in the European Union, send their foreign ministers to Orient House to emphasize their opposition to Israel's annexation of east Jerusalem.

Israeli Editorial Opinion: Jerusalem

Yediot Ahronot notes Prime Minister Peres has accused the opposition of incitement for charging that he is prepared to divide the city, and says that "this is a regrettable response, because the Likud's claims are definitely legitimate elections material, whose veracity must be examined and dealt with before they are defined under the comprehensive heading of 'incitement.'"

The paper reminds its readers that two well-known Israeli academics have held talks with Palestinian colleagues on various issues, including the future of Jerusalem, and that these same academics were involved in the preliminary discussions which led to the Oslo Agreement.

The editors point out that whereas the government denies that these are officially-sanctioned talks, the opposition claims that "this is exactly how the two began the talks which led to the Oslo Agreement." The paper believes that the government has the obligation of proving that its version is correct, "because how many times in the recent past has it proven to us that its denials must be taken with a grain of salt."

Davar Rishon believes that "the problem of Jerusalem is difficult to solve because both sides -- Israel and the Palestinians -- say that the eastern part of the city 'is all mine' and are not prepared for any compromise," and that "the problem of Jerusalem is almost insoluble, because it has been the most important city for the Jewish people for thousands of years, and because it has been the third most important city in the Arab and Islamic worlds for hundreds of years."

The paper adds that "the problem of Jerusalem is so difficult and complex because so many feelings -- which no logic can compete with -- are bound up with it." The editors state that "the problem of Jerusalem is certainly one of the most important issues that will be on agenda" during the elections, and add that "it is possible that all of the Zionist parties will speak with one voice on the Jerusalem issue; it is possible that they will not. There will certainly be nuances. It is the public that will decide among them."

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