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>Israel Faxx
>JN March 19, 1997, Vol. 5, Number 48

Construction Starts at Har Homa in East

By Al Pessin (VOA) & Ron Pemstein (State Department)

Israeli bulldozers began moving earth on a disputed east Jerusalem hilltop Tuesday afternoon -- in spite of an international outcry and efforts by Palestinians to block the construction of a new Jewish neighborhood on the site.

This was the moment Israelis and Palestinians have been waiting for these last several weeks -- the arrival of bulldozers on this hill on the edge of east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want to be part of their future capital and which Israel says it will never surrender. A handful of Palestinians who managed to reach the site stood in front of the bulldozers, but police stepped in and the bulldozers took another route down the hillside.

A few kilometers away, about 50 marchers led by two senior Palestinian officials tried to walk to the site from a base camp they had set up on a nearby hill. But Israeli soldiers blocked their way.

An Israeli army officer tried to convince the marchers to turn back, but they refused, and a shoving match followed. When it became clear the marchers would not reach their destination, they did turn back. But the speaker of the Palestinian Council, Ahmed Qureia, said it was not a good moment for the peace process. "It is the time to defend this process, otherwise we will lose it. And believe me if we lose it today it will be lost forever. By this army they can dictate. By the power of the occupation, they can do it. But by the peace, they will never win it."

Qureia says this will not be the end of Palestinian reaction to the building project, and he says once the bulldozers moved, the whole atmosphere of Israeli-Palestinian relations changed. Israel says the Palestinians must accept Israeli sovereignty over all the territory Israel considers part of Jerusalem, including this hill. But Qureia says the peace process faces a disaster, unless Israel is willing to negotiate all issues.

The United States is calling for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to resume. President Clinton told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month that he wished the decision to construct the settlement had not been made. Now that construction has started, the Clinton administration has begun to call for negotiations between Israel and Palestinians.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright tells reporters at the White House, the United States hopes violence can be avoided. "We are obviously concerned about the fact that violence is never an answer to the problems in the Middle East and we would very much want to see a return to the table. That is the only time that there has been progress in the Middle East is when the parties are actually talking to each other at the table."

The secretary of state refused to criticize directly the Israeli decision to go ahead with construction. But she says the Israelis understand the difficulties the Clinton administration sees with their decision to go forward.

Arabs Upset Over Har Homa

By Laurie Kassman (VOA-Cairo)

Even as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu began implementing his controversial housing policy, Arab leaders are again warning Israel against pursuing construction of Jewish housing in east Jerusalem.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak again warned Israel's policy is dangerous to the peace process. In two TV interviews, he called on Netanyahu to evaluate the reality of the situation before continuing with plans to build in east Jerusalem.

Mubarak had consulted by phone with Palestinian chairman Yasir Arafat and with King Hussein following his trip to Israel Sunday. He also talked by phone with Netanyahu. Mubarak told his interviewers that most Arab leaders resent Israel's settlement policy.

Saudi Arabia's King Fahd has also denounced the policy. The official news agency says he told a weekly cabinet meeting that Israel is violating UN resolutions and international agreements to preserve east Jerusalem's demographic and geographic features in terms of Islamic and Arab identity.

Arab leaders complain that Israel is trying to change the demographics to prejudice the outcome of negotiations over Jerusalem's final status. Israel sees the unified city as its capital but Palestinians want east Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.

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