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Arafat Sounds Warning on Jewish Settler Crisis

By Colleen Siegel

JERUSALEM, Sept 17. 1997 (Reuters)

 

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat sounded a warning on Wednesday of a ``very negative reaction'' unless Israel swiftly resolved a crisis over the takeover by Jewish settlers of two homes in Arab East Jerusalem. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing government offered the four Jewish families, who moved into the Ras al-Amoud neighbourhood on Sunday, a compromise proposal to quit the site temporarily and leave behind a token presence. 

Settlers immediately dismissed the offer. Palestinians condemned the proposal. 

Israel Radio said the American Jewish millionaire who bankrolled the settlement bid had asked the High Court of Justice for an interim order banning the government and police from evicting the families. 

In Gaza, Arafat called the settlement a violation of his peace deals with Israel. 

``We hope it will be solved very quickly. Otherwise, it will be a very negative reaction,'' he said in English, without elaborating. 

A year ago, Netanyahu's opening of a new entrance to an archaeological tunnel near Moslem holy sites in East Jerusalem touched off violence that took the lives of 61 Palestinians and 15 Israelis. 

Israel regards East Jerusalem, captured in the 1967 Middle East war, as an indivisible part of its ``eternal capital'' Jerusalem. The PLO wants East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. 

Netanyahu has condemned the settler move but said he had no legal power to expel them from the buildings they say were lawfully purchased by Miami-based magnate Irving Moscowitz. 

Political analysts said Netanyahu could invoke public security to force the settlers out, but such a move would put him on a collision course with his right wing. 

``There was a proposal in which the prime minister would acknowledge the legality (of the settlement) and the right of Jews to settle in Jerusalem, on the Mount of Olives,'' said Deputy Education Minister Moshe Peled. 

``On the other hand, the families would not stay in the buildings at this stage but 10 young men would remain to study the Bible and carry out (winter) maintenance,'' Peled, a negotiator in the crisis, told Israel Radio. 

``When the repairs are completed, the families will be able to enter the buildings,'' he said. 

Ahmed Tibi, an adviser to Arafat, reacted angrily to the proposal and said all the settlers had to go for good. 

``The only solution that will be acceptable is a complete, comprehensive and immediate evacuation of all the settlers who entered the Ras al-Amoud neighbourhood,'' he said. 

Hagit Harel, a spokeswoman for the settlers who moved on Sunday into the two homes in the Arab neighbourhood of Ras al-Amoud, said the offer to leave temporarily was unacceptable. 

``Proposals were made but there is no compromise,'' she told the radio. 

Public Security Minister Avigdor Kahalani said he planned to meet Moscowitz later in the day to try to end the crisis without having to evict the settlers forcibly from the neighbourhood where 11,000 Arabs live. 

``We don't rule out (forcible eviction) but this is not the way to go right now,'' Kahalani told the radio. 

Netanyahu cancelled the Romanian leg of a three-country European tour scheduled to open on Thursday to tackle the crisis. 

The Israeli leader is caught between warnings from his chief of police, Palestinians and left-wing Israelis that the takeover could trigger bloodshed and threats from his right wing that the eviction of the settlers could spark a coalition crisis. 

The settlers' move under the cloak of darkness took place just days after U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright urged an Israeli ``time-out'' to settlement expansion and other unilateral steps deemed provocative by Palestinians. 

At the site -- just outside the walled Old City but in the glare of the golden Dome of the Rock -- the leader of a Jewish group that wants to rebuild the biblical Jewish Temple where the Moslem shrine now stands surveyed the scene with satisfaction. 

``There are only three things involved in real estate: location, location and location. And this is location,'' Yossi Baumol said.

'



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