Palestinian politicians reject Israeli deportation order

By Samuel Sockol
Washington Post staff writer
Monday, June 21, 2010; 1:42 PM

JERUSALEM -- Four Palestinian politicians affiliated with the Islamist Hamas party on Monday rejected an Israeli order that they relocate to the West Bank.

Israel revoked the Jerusalem residency status of the three members of the defunct Palestinian parliament and a former cabinet minister after they refused to resign from their positions and were deemed "disloyal" to the state. The move stripped them of their ability to live in the city legally.

The deadline for one of the politicians to leave has already passed; the other three face a July 3 deadline. They will likely be deported, although they could be arrested and tried for their refusal to relocate.

Protest of the deportation order brought together rivals from Hamas and the Fatah party as well as Israeli Arab members of Knesset, who are facing similar accusations of disloyalty.

The deportation order highlights the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians over the future status of East Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed in a step not recognized by the international community. The Palestinians seek East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

The three parliamentarians won seats in a national election in 2006. The fourth was appointed to be minister of Jerusalem affairs in a short-lived coalition government of Hamas and Fatah. The government collapsed after Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007.

"We as sons of the city of Jerusalem never left it before. We were born here before it was occupied and we emphasize that we will remain here and never leave it," said one of the parliamentarians, Mohamad Totah, reading from a joint statement at a press conference on Monday.

Saeb Erekat, an adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, described the Israeli move as a "form of collective punishment."

Israel allowed members affiliated with Hamas to compete in the Palestinian election even though it considers the Islamist group a terrorist organization.

Following Hamas's 2006 victory, the Israeli Interior Ministry moved to revoke the politicians' Jerusalem residency status after they refused to resign. Israel argued before a court that the four were members of an organization that calls for the destruction of the state of Israel while "holding a permit to live in that state.''

"By doing as such,'' Israel said, the four "blatantly violated the obligation of loyalty to the state of Israel.''

Monday's protest was emblematic of a growing tension between the Israeli authorities and the Palestinian population in Jerusalem. In a similar vein on Monday, a Jerusalem municipal committee approved a controversial development plan for an Arab neighborhood that would include the demolition of 22 homes the city says were built illegally.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat wants to turn the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan into a multi-use area that includes a tourist park. Fakhri Abu Diab, chairman of the residents' committee of the area, called the decision "a declaration of war."

A spokesman for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Mark Regev, called Monday's municipal vote a preliminary step.

"The prime minister has called in the past for dialogue between the residents and the authorities that will be based on the respect of the law. Since this is a process, and we are at a preliminary stage, there is enough time for dialogue. We hope that an agreed solution will be found in accordance to the law," Regev said.

Staff writer Janine Zacharia in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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