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Fearing fresh unrest, Bennett gov’t weighing delay for verdict on Sheikh Jarrah

Coalition source says PMO could seek 6-month postponement of Supreme Court decision set to be handed down Monday, concerned it could reignite tensions with Palestinians

Palestinians and left-wing activists protest against the eviction of Palestinian families from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, on April 16, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Palestinians and left-wing activists protest against the eviction of Palestinian families from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, on April 16, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Israeli government may seek to postpone a verdict in the controversial Sheikh Jarrah eviction cases, a coalition source close to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told The Times of Israel on Tuesday.

Four Palestinian families are set to be evicted by Israeli authorities in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, pending a final Supreme Court hearing next Monday.

While no final decision has been made by the Prime Minister’s Office, the coalition source said Bennett’s government is seriously considering a delay of that court session. The source did not specify how the government would go about ensuring such a delay, but said that it could well freeze the proceedings for another six months.

Discussions in the PMO on the matter come as Bennett readies for his first trip to the White House as premier. No date has been scheduled yet for the visit, but some time in mid-August is more likely as the Knesset will be in recess. However, a decision to move forward with the evictions could cause problems for the trip to the United States, given Washington’s firm opposition to the move.

The evictions have become a rallying cry for Palestinians in recent months and sparked violent clashes in East Jerusalem that spread far beyond the contested city and were partly responsible for the flare-up between Israel and Gaza terror groups in May.

Lower Israeli courts have already approved the eviction of the four Sheikh Jarrah families, although the Supreme Court has yet to issue its decision.

Joint List MK Aida Touma-Suleiman, Joint List MK Ofer Cassif, Joint list MK Ahmad Tibi, Palestinians and left wing activists protest against the expulsion of Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah on April 16, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Tensions in East Jerusalem played a key role in the recent escalation between Hamas and Israel. The Sheikh Jarrah situation, along with bloody clashes at the holy Temple Mount site, were both cited by the Hamas terror group as among the reasons it fired rockets toward Jerusalem in early May — igniting 11 days of fighting with Israel.

Just a day before Hamas rockets arced towards Jerusalem, the Supreme Court cancelled a hearing that could have determined whether the four Palestinian families would be evicted.

After the families asked Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to become a party to the case, Mandelblit’s office asked the Supreme Court to consider the matter, but eventually decided against it.

Mandelblit did hand the court a sealed affidavit containing the recommendations of “relevant policymakers” regarding the Sheikh Jarrah case. According to the Walla news site, the affidavit contained opinions from senior Israeli security officials warning that evicting the families could lead to escalating tensions between Israelis and Palestinians.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the Knesset plenum, on July 13, 2021.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In all, over 70 Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah are set to be evicted as part of the cases. The Palestinians live in houses built on land that courts have ruled were owned by Jewish religious associations before the establishment of Israel in 1948.

Right-wing Jewish nationalists view the matter as a fight to expand the Jewish presence in East Jerusalem by legal means. Palestinians see it as part of a project to expunge their presence in the city. The Israeli government, meanwhile, has said it views the evictions as a pure and simple real-estate dispute.

The land on which the four homes were built was owned by Jews before the 1948 Israeli War of Independence, when it was seized by Jordan and leased to Palestinian families. After Israel captured the area in the 1967 war, a 1970 Israeli law transferred all abandoned properties still held by the Jordanian government, including the Sheikh Jarrah homes, to the custody of the Israeli government.

The law further obligated the release of properties to original owners when possible. The Jewish trusts that owned the site appealed for its return to their hands, sparking a five-decade legal battle with Palestinian residents, who vowed to stay where they were.

According to Ir Amim, a left-wing human rights group focusing on Jerusalem, around 200 families in East Jerusalem are under similar threat of eviction, with cases slowly moving through administrative bodies and Israeli courts.

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