PA said seeking to deport Palestinian-American jailed for selling land to Jews

‘He has become a burden,’ Israeli TV quotes a Palestinian official as saying of Issam Akel, who was sentenced to life in prison and will reportedly be sent to the US

Issam Akel (Screenshot/Wattan News Agency)
Issam Akel (Screenshot/Wattan News Agency)

The Palestinian Authority is planning to extradite a Palestinian-American resident of East Jerusalem to the United States after sentencing him to life in prison for attempting to sell land to Jews, Israeli television reported Wednesday.

A PA court in Ramallah sentenced Issam Akel, a resident of Jerusalem’s Beit Hanina neighborhood who holds a blue Israeli identification card, on Monday, according to an official in the PA judiciary’s media office. The PA arrested him in October and he has since remained in its custody, the official, who asked to remain nameless, said.

The US has been heavily pressuring the PA to release Akel and American officials visited him in jail, the Kan public broadcaster reported Wednesday.

The US and the PA agreed Akel would be sent to the US after the end of legal proceedings, as his lawyer is expected to file an appeal, an unnamed senior Palestinian official told the TV station.

Though many details of his extradition have yet to be finalized, the Palestinian official said the PA was eager to get Akel off its hands.

“We want to finish this saga. He has become a burden upon us,” the official was quoted as saying.

Asked about the Kan report, a spokeswoman for the US embassy in Jerusalem referred to a statement an American official made about Akel on Monday.

“We are aware of reports that a US citizen has been sentenced by a Palestinian court. When a US citizen is incarcerated abroad, the US government works to provide all appropriate consular assistance,” the official had said.

Ahmad Majdalani, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee, told The Times of Israel he was unaware of a plan to extradite Akel.

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman speaks at an event in Jerusalem on October 16, 2018. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

In November, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman called on Ramallah to free Akel.

“The Pal Authority has been holding US citizen Isaam Akel in prison for ~2 months,” Friedman tweeted on November 28. “His suspected ‘crime’? Selling land to a Jew. Akel’s incarceration is antithetical to the values of the US & to all who advocate the cause of peaceful coexistence. We demand his immediate release.”

Palestinian law considers attempting to sell or selling land to Israeli Jews a crime. According to the law, possible punishments for trying to sell or selling land to Jewish Israelis include various degrees of hard labor and imprisonment as well as execution.

However, the law requires that PA President Mahmoud Abbas approve any death sentence, and he has not signed off on any executions since 2006.

Akel’s father, Jalal, has denied his son sold land to Israeli Jews.

The PA rarely arrests and carries out judicial proceedings against residents of Jerusalem who hold Israeli ID cards.

There are indications that Israel has attempted to pressure the PA over the issue by arresting Palestinian officials in Jerusalem in recent months.

An Israeli policeman watches over the Palestinian Authority’s Jerusalem governor, Adnan Ghaith, during a court appearance following his arrest in Jerusalem, November 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

Since Akel’s arrest, Israel has been taken into custody and then released PA Jerusalem Governor Adnan Ghaith a few times.

Israeli security forces have also arrested 32 East Jerusalem residents on suspicion of supporting and serving in the PA security forces. According to a police statement, the suspects were Israeli residents and some were receiving social benefits from the state while also serving in the PA’s armed forces.

The statement said the activities were illegal under the 1994 Gaza-Jericho agreement, a follow-up treaty to the Oslo Accords. All 32 East Jerusalem residents were later released.

Israel also halted security coordination with the PA in parts of the West Bank adjacent to Jerusalem in recent weeks, a PA security official, who asked to remain nameless, said in a phone call on Monday.

“It’s been totally frozen there,” the official said.

The Kan broadcaster suggested the cooperation freeze was also linked to Akel’s arrest.

Security coordination allows for the PA to operate in villages adjacent to Jerusalem, where it does not have a permanent security presence.

Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.

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