The Obama administration on Monday hurried to express its opposition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s tentative talk of revoking the permanent residency status of tens of thousands of Arabs living in East Jerusalem.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that, as far as the US government knows, Israel is not actively considering such a move. But if it were, he said, “it would obviously be of some concern to us.” The US, Earnest went on, reiterates the “importance of all sides avoiding provocative actions and rhetoric.”
Netanyahu discussed the idea in vague terms at a Knesset committee meeting earlier Monday, as part of possible measures aimed at halting an ongoing spate of terror attacks.
In his first appearance at the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee of the Knesset winter sitting, Netanyahu said he was planning on touring East Jerusalem with other cabinet members to explore the issue further.
An Israeli official later told AP that Netanyahu had ordered a review of the status of certain Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem that lie beyond the security barrier. The planned review comes amid weeks of Palestinian terror attacks on Israelis, many carried out by East Jerusalem residents. However, many of the attackers live in Arab neighborhoods such as Jabel Mukabar that are inside the barrier.
Netanyahu first raised the idea of revoking Arab East Jerusalemites’ residency in a security cabinet meeting two weeks ago, according to a Sunday report from Channel 2 television news.
“We need to examine the possibility of canceling their residency. There needs to be a discussion about it,” Netanyahu reportedly said at the time.
The proposal could affect some 80,000-100,000 Palestinians.
The idea was met with surprise by some in the cabinet, who saw the move as a step toward dividing Jerusalem through ceding control over Arab neighborhoods.
“That is a far-reaching decision that requires a referendum, because it would involve giving up territory,” Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz reportedly said in response to Netanyahu.
In Monday’s committee meeting, Netanyahu also addressed a plan to revoke terrorists’ Israeli citizenship or residency. Asked by Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich why the plan had not been implemented yet, he said, “It’s not happening because of the legal system,” according to a report by Haaretz.
Speaking more generally about the response to the recent wave of terror, Netanyahu said now was not the time to consider territorial concessions.
While he does not want to bring about a single-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians, Israel will have to maintain control of the West Bank in “the foreseeable future” in order to ensure security, the prime minister said, according to Haaretz.
“These days, there is talk about what would happen if this or that person would have remained,” he said, apparently alluding to prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated exactly 20 years ago. “It’s irrelevant; there are movements here of religion and Islam that have nothing to do with us,” Netanyahu said.
He told opposition Knesset members that there is no “magic wand” to resolve the conflict, Haaretz said, and that Israel will “forever live by the sword.”
Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War, and extended its sovereignty to the area in 1980, granting the populace a permanent residency status that gives residents many of the same rights as citizenship. Few Palestinians there accepted full Israeli citizenship, fearing it would legitimize what they consider Israeli occupation, and the vast majority hold residency rights. As residents, they enjoy freedom of movement, the right to work in Israel and access to Israeli social services and health care.
A number of measures taken over the last several weeks to place barriers outside Arab neighborhoods of the city in a bid to stem terror attacks were criticized as redividing the capital.
Neighborhoods in East Jerusalem suffer from poor infrastructure, and a lack of classrooms, resources and services when compared to wealthier Jewish neighborhoods. Some 75 percent of the city’s Palestinians live in poverty, according to Israeli statistics. The situation is especially dire in those areas outside the barrier, which suffer from overcrowding and lack of municipal services as Palestinians have fled a housing crunch in Arab neighborhoods inside the barrier. Israeli police often do not venture into these areas, and Israeli utilities offer only limited services.
There have been almost daily Palestinian attacks against Israeli civilians and security forces. In the past five weeks, 10 Israelis have been killed in Palestinian attacks, mostly stabbings, while 51 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire, including 30 said by Israel to be attackers and the rest in clashes.
The latest violence is linked to tensions over a sensitive Jerusalem holy site revered by Jews and Muslims. Palestinians have accused Israel of trying to expand the Jewish presence at the Temple Mount. Israel adamantly denies such allegations, saying they amount to incitement to violence.
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