Netanyahu orders PLO offices in Jerusalem closed
May 10, 1999
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli and Palestinian negotiators failed to reach agreement Monday to stop an order from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu closing three PLO offices in Jerusalem, an impasse that some warn could lead to violence before Israel's general elections next week.
Palestinian officials and Israeli Public Security Minister Avigdor Kahalani failed to find a compromise after hours of effort, and the orders were issued three hours after a 7 p.m. negotiating deadline.
Jawad Boulous, an attorney representing the PLO, said a last-minute compromise offer from the Israelis was rejected because of the continued insistence that the PLO move two offices to the West Bank.
Boulous returned to Kahalani's office after the evening deadline with a counterproposal, which was apparently rejected by the Israelis.
Netanyahu ordered Palestinians to close the offices at the PLO headquarters by 7 p.m. Monday, saying they were being used on behalf of the Palestinian Authority in violation of the Oslo accords.
Palestinian leaders have said they will not allow Israeli police to enter Orient House, the location of the offices, and warned riots could take place if they are closed.
A police raid is unlikely within the next few days, however.
Israeli peace activists said they would appeal the orders to the Supreme Court on Tuesday to prevent a closure, a move that could delay a decision until after the May 17 election.
Orient House has become a symbol for Palestinians who want East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state, and a lightening rod for conservative Israeli politicians who consider Jerusalem the capital of Israel.
No Palestinian Authority ties
Under interim peace agreements between Israelis and Palestinians, the Palestinian Authority cannot operate in Jerusalem; the city's status is to be determined in future talks.
The Palestinians say Orient House has no ties to the Palestinian Authority, whose president is Yasser Arafat. They argue that previous governments have left the headquarters alone since it opened during the Palestinian uprising in the late 1980s.
Israel also demanded that PLO representative Faisel Husseini stop receiving ambassadors and dignitaries at Orient House.
One of the offices ordered closed belongs to Husseini. Another deals with map-making and monitoring of Jewish settlements. The third handles international relations.
Netanyahu trails in latest poll
Opponents have accused Netanyahu of trying to provoke a crisis because of the strength of an opponent trying to unseat him as prime minister in next Monday's election. In the latest poll, Ehud Barak, the candidate for the One Israel coalition, led Netanyahu 45 percent to 37 percent.
Barak has gained support from Russian immigrants, a large voting bloc who favor peace with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu's coalition is made up of conservative, Orthodox and right-wing parties who oppose the declaration of an independent Palestinian state.
The poll taken for Israel Channel 2 Television indicates that if Center Party candidate Yitzhak Mordechai and Arab candidate Azmi Bishara were to withdraw from the race, Barak would win with 52 percent of the vote, compared to 40 percent for Netanyahu.
U.S. pushes for compromise
The United States had been pressuring the Netanyahu government to avoid a confrontation over the Orient House offices.
U.S. envoy Dennis Ross talked with Kahalani on Sunday, urging the Israeli government to work out some way to avoid a confrontation with the Palestinians.
Reuters contributed to this report.
Israeli Cabinet defies EU over Jerusalem
Israel's Institutions of Government
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