What are Israel’s motives for arresting Palestinian Jerusalem governor?
LONDON - Adnan Ghaith, the Palestinian governor of Jerusalem, was released from an Israeli jail on December 2 after being held in detention for a week.
He was released after an Israeli court issued a conditional decision to keep him under house arrest for three days as part of an investigation related to a land sale.
Nine Palestinians mainly affiliated with the Fatah movement were released under similar conditions. Another 32 Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem who were arrested on suspicion of supporting and serving in the Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces were to be freed.
Israeli law states that East Jerusalem Palestinians are barred from working with the PA security forces. A statement from Israeli police said the suspects were “Israeli residents” and some received social benefits from the state while serving in the PA’s armed forces.
Under the 1994 Gaza-Jericho agreement, a follow-up treaty to the Oslo Accords, which were signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), the PA is not permitted to arrest Palestinians in East Jerusalem.
Ghaith’s lawyer Rami Othman said Ghaith would not be allowed to enter the West Bank for 14 days and must pay bail. Ghaith has been arrested three times in the past two months along with other Palestinian activists mainly affiliated with Fatah.
Ghaith has been under investigation by Israeli police over suspicions he was involved in the PA’s arrest in October of Palestinian-American Issam Akel. Ghaith denied responsibility for Akel’s abduction and transfer to a West Bank prison.
Akel was accused by the Palestinian Authorities of being involved in selling a building in East Jerusalem’s Muslim quarter to Jewish buyers.
Following Akel’s arrest, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman called for his immediate release, describing Akel’s incarceration as “antithetical to the values of the United States and to all who advocate the cause of peaceful coexistence.”
Akel’s father, Jalal, told Reuters that “there is no evidence my son sold anything to Israelis, all charges are void.”
Selling Palestinian land to Jewish buyers, especially in Jerusalem, is condemned by most Palestinians and considered a punishable offence under Palestinian law. Violators can be sentenced to hard labour or even given the death penalty.
Palestinian officials condemned Ghaith’s arrest, claiming it was intended to pressure the Palestinian leadership over Akel’s case. Israeli security forces also recently arrested Jihad Faqih, the Jerusalem director of the PA General Intelligence Services.
In a statement published by the Wafa news agency, Adnan al-Husseini, a member of the PLO Executive Committee and a former PA Jerusalem governor, condemned the arrests of Ghaith and Faqih, saying the acts “target the Palestinian presence in Jerusalem.”
Following Ghaith’s arrests last month, the PA halted security coordination with Israel and demanded Ghaith’s release. In response, Israel halted security coordination with the PA in the Jerusalem area.
Ghaith’s lawyer said his client’s repeated arrests are aimed at pushing him out of the governorship. Israel bars the Palestinian Authority from operating in Jerusalem. The PA’s governor for Jerusalem and minister for Jerusalem affairs have offices in Al-Ram on the other side of Israel’s separation wall from the city in the occupied West Bank.
The status of Jerusalem is a sensitive issue that lies at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel occupied East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War and annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community.
Since then, Israel has spared no efforts to Judaise the city by changing its geographical features, replacing Arabic names of areas and streets with Hebrew ones and demolishing houses and revoking residency permits of Palestinian residents.
The Israeli arrests of high-ranking PA officials aim to send a message that Israel still has the upper hand in the occupied Palestinian territories and Palestinians have no sovereignty, including in the mostly Palestinian East Jerusalem.
Since 1967, excavations have been carried out under al-Aqsa Mosque adjacent to the Dome of the Rock in the Old City of Jerusalem, the third holiest site in Sunni Islam. Tel Aviv considers the entire city as its eternal and undivided capital but Palestinians claim the eastern part as the capital of a future independent state.