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Israel asking US to push Palestinians toward compromise on Sheikh Jarrah

Jerusalem has asked Washington to convince families in high profile East Jerusalem eviction case to accept a deal that will allow them to stay as protected tenants

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

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

NEW YORK — Israel has asked the Biden administration to use its bully pulpit to encourage several Palestinian families facing Israeli eviction from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah to accept a compromise proposed by the Supreme Court that would allow them to stay put for the foreseeable future, an Israeli official told The Times of Israel on Monday.

“The deal allows the Palestinians to climb down [from their position], and we asked the Americans to encourage the families to do so before it’s too late,” the official said, confirming the request first reported by the Haaretz daily.

The Sheikh Jarrah evictions have been a rallying cry for Palestinians in recent months and sparked violent clashes in East Jerusalem that spread far beyond the contested city — and were even 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 own final decision.

Last week, the Supreme Court proposed a compromise that would see the Palestinians remain in their homes as protected tenants, making it harder — but not impossible — to evict them. Under the deal, they would pay NIS 1,500 ($465) in yearly fees to Nahalat Shimon, the Jewish nationalist group claiming ownership of the homes. The sum is a small fraction of the likely market rent for their homes, and the compromise would allow the Palestinians to avoid conceding ownership to the Jewish organization, recognizing only that Nahalat Shimon is registered as the property’s owner in Israel.

The Palestinians could choose whoever they wanted to be considered protected tenants, and they would be considered to be first-generation tenants. Since Israeli law allows the children of first-generation protected tenants to maintain their status under certain conditions, this could mean the evictions would be delayed for decades.

The Supreme Court convenes for a hearing on the looming evictions of Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah on August 2, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The court gave the four Palestinian families threatened with eviction until Tuesday to assemble a list of names to be declared protected tenants as part of the deal. The justices urged the Palestinians to accept the compromise.

As of Monday, the defense team representing the Palestinian families had not indicated whether it would accept the compromise, with much of the Palestinian street urging the families to reject it.

Critics of the offer argue that it does not fully prevent the possibility of eviction in the near future. Any changes to one’s property without the approval of the owners could be grounds for immediate eviction of a protected tenant under Israeli law.

While the families have benefited from the international attention to their plight, which has made it harder for Israel to move forward with plans to evict them, some believe the lopsided attention in their favor may also make it more difficult for them to back down and accept the compromise.

Palestinians protest in the West Bank city of Ramallah on May 9, 2021, in solidarity with Palestinian families facing Israeli eviction orders in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem. (ABBAS MOMANI / AFP)

Asked to confirm the Israeli request regarding the compromise on Friday, State Department spokesman Ned Price declined to comment on private diplomatic conversations.

The court’s offer “is a matter for the Israeli and Palestinian parties to the case to consider and to decide for themselves,” he said.

“We’ve said this just this week and many times before that: families should not be evicted from their homes in which they have lived for decades. We have encouraged Israeli authorities to avoid evictions and other actions that exacerbate tensions and that undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution,” Price added.

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