- Since President Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital at the end of 2017, the Palestinian Authority has stepped up its unlawful activities in the eastern part of the city in contravention of the Oslo Accords.
- During October 2018, the Palestinian Authority focused on its war on Palestinians who sell land and homes in Jerusalem to Jews.
- As part of this campaign, a Palestinian realtor with dual Israeli and U.S. citizenship was abducted to Ramallah where he is held in an interrogation cell.
During October 2018, the sale of the Joudeh family house in the Saadiya neighborhood in Jerusalem’s Old City to Jews caused a storm among the residents of the territories. The details of the sale were discovered by members of the family after they sold their three-story house to a Palestinian businessman, Khaled al-Atari. The family was surprised to find out that a short time after the sale, in exchange for $17 million, al-Atari transferred the ownership of the property in the land registry to a group of Jews who immediately moved into the house.
It then emerged that the Palestinian Authority had previously prevented the house from being sold to one of the supporters of Mohammed Dahlan, named Fadi al-Salamin, who resides in the United States. [Dahlan is loathed by PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.] Palestinian sources claim that Khaled al-Atari is a supporter of Abbas and Gen. Majid Faraj and that the transaction was made with their authorization. Al-Atari was summoned to a violent interrogation by Fatah operatives in east Jerusalem, and since then he has gone into hiding in fear of his life.
This episode struck a serious blow to the status of the Palestinian Authority. Many residents of the territories perceive it to be corrupt and think that its leaders make deals with Israel through front companies in order to purchase real estate in the Old City, near the Temple Mount, as part of Israel’s attempt to gain control of the al-Aqsa Mosque.
In the wake of this incident, the Palestinian administration, led by Rami Hamdallah, decided on October 10, 2018, to establish an investigation committee to examine the sale of the Joudeh family house.
On October 13, 2018, Sheikh Akhram a-Sabri, preacher of the al-Aqsa Mosque, issued a fatwa (ruling in Islamic law) stating that anyone who sells property in the Old City of Jerusalem to Jews no longer belongs to the Islamic religion.
“We will not accept his repentance, and he will not be buried in a Muslim cemetery,” Sabri declared.
An Escalation of Actions against Those Who Sell Land and Property to Jews
Senior officials in Fatah say that as a result of the incident, PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has instructed the Palestinian security services to treat the sellers of the land and property to Jews more severely in an effort to distance himself from the scandal of the Joudeh family house sale in the Old City, to which his name has been linked.
This task has been given to his associate, Gen. Majid Faraj, who issued instructions to his men in east Jerusalem.
On October 20, 2018, the Jerusalem police and the Israel Security Agency (ISA) apprehended Adnan Gheith, the PA’s Jerusalem governor, and Jihad al-Faqih, director of the PA’s intelligence office in east Jerusalem, both of whom are supporters of Gen. Majid Faraj. They were arrested on suspicion of abducting a Beit Hanina resident (whose name is known to the author), a known realtor dealing in land and property, whom they suspected of selling a property in the area of Herod’s Gate in the Old City.
The realtor is an Israeli citizen who also holds a U.S. passport.
According to Palestinian sources, he is still incarcerated in the interrogation cell of the PA General Intelligence Service in Ramallah.
His family has submitted a complaint to the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem regarding his arrest, but according to sources in Fatah, PA Chairman Abbas has no respect for the Trump administration as a result of the president’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Abbas has instructed that the realtor should not be released from custody.
Fatah sources claim that the Palestinian realtor gave himself up to the intelligence service office in A-Ram in northern Jerusalem. Both PA Jerusalem governor Adnan Gheith and intelligence services office director Jihad al-Faqih deny the abduction took place. However, senior sources in Fatah have confirmed the story. Mahmoud Abbas wants to create a policy of deterrence against the sellers of land and property to Jews in the Old City, and he is looking for a scapegoat that all can see and fear.
A Serious Violation of the Oslo Accords
According to the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian security forces are not allowed to operate in east Jerusalem. However, the Palestinian Authority has been openly violating the accords.
Accordingly, the PA security forces have been playing a game of cat and mouse with the Israel police and ISA.
East Jerusalem residents relate that during 2018 after President Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the PA security forces stepped up their operations in the area. They are threatening residents on a daily basis and summon them to interrogations in the offices of the Jerusalem district governor at city hall in A-Ram in the northern part of the city.
Security officers are also giving money to Fatah merchants and activists to strengthen Abbas’ position in east Jerusalem.
However, the abduction of an Israeli citizen with U.S. citizenship is extremely serious. Under the terms of the Oslo accords, the Palestinian Authority is obliged to release him immediately.
This type of incident has not occurred in east Jerusalem for many years.
Eighteen years previously, in 2000, Yasser Arafat instructed Jibril Rajoub, then head of the security services, to abduct the merchant Abd al-Salam Hirbawi from east Jerusalem. Hirbawi refused to obey Arafat’s order to transfer a piece of land that he owned in Jerusalem’s Old City to the Coptic church. Hirbawi, who was an Israeli citizen, was forcibly taken to Ramallah, but Israel did not allow this to go unnoticed.
The then-commander of the Judea and Samaria division Gen. Gabi Ofir imposed a closure on Ramallah and ordered it to be surrounded by tanks to prevent Rajoub’s men from transferring Hirbawi to Nablus (Shechem).
The Israeli pressure worked, and Hirbawi was released from custody soon after.
It is time for Israel to take a strong stand against the Palestinian security services, who are violating the Oslo accords in east Jerusalem to strengthen Abbas’ position and strike against Israeli policy.
Mahmoud Abbas is trying to intimidate and deter the residents of the eastern part of the city from selling land and property to Israeli residents and non-profit organizations to weaken the Israeli hold on east Jerusalem. Israel has many ways to act against Abbas’ operatives in east Jerusalem, such as issuing administrative orders or removing them from the city in a lawful manner.
The battle for Jerusalem is under way, and the time has come to take a firm stand.