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Palestinian PM amends controversial regulation to exclude Jerusalemites

A controversial decision ordering Palestinian homeowners to seek approval of government agencies before renting to any person with an Israeli ID produced a big reaction from East Jerusalem residents, prompting the order to later be amended to exclude them.

Due to public pressure, the Palestinian government amended a controversial regulation dealing with East Jerusalem residents. The decision set out in an order by Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah Jan. 3 required Palestinians holding Israeli IDs from having to pass a security clearance before being allowed to rent property in the Palestinian areas. The amendment, which made an exception for East Jerusalem residents, has eased the tension. But many Palestinians are still angry at being treated in a discriminatory fashion.

A senior Palestinian government source who preferred not to be identified told Al-Monitor that the original Jan. 3 decision was taken due to a noticeable increase in the number of rented homes being used for illegal activities, including drug creation and sale. The source insisted that much of the drug business is done with Palestinian citizens of Israel. One of the most dangerous drug dealers who had nine warrants for his arrest was rounded up in Ramallah last September. It appears that the information gleaned from this criminal and others led to the decision regarding restricting rentals to holders of Israeli IDs.

The Jan. 3 decision signed by Hamdallah orders every Palestinian landlord to submit a request to be approved by the local government (municipality or local village council) where they live before renting an apartment to a “person holding an Israeli ID.” Government agencies working with the Palestinian security are given two weeks to respond to any request, the order states. The order makes no mention of the consequences of not abiding by it.

The rescinded amendment issued in the weekly Cabinet meeting on Jan. 8 explains that “the decision was an administrative one to protect public order and that Jerusalemites are exempt from this decision.” No specific details were given as to the reason for the decision or how the various government agencies are expected to differentiate between Jerusalem's residents and Israeli citizens.

Ziad Abu Zayyad, a Jerusalem attorney and former member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, told Al-Monitor that many Palestinians from Jerusalem have chosen to live in Ramallah and Bethlehem. “They have had to live outside of Jerusalem for work or family reasons. If the Israelis find out, they may deny them social benefits and might eventually cancel their residency rights. By demanding that the rental agreements be presented to a government body, many worried that the Palestinian government might indirectly help the Israelis.”

Mohammad Zahika, a Jerusalem resident and head of the Jerusalem Press Club, told Al-Monitor that what the Palestinian government did was possibly make an honest mistake. “These are the kind of ill-prepared decisions taken these days, which reflect badly on the system of governance we have in Ramallah.”

Zahika said that by retracting the decision, the government made the right move to correct its mistake.

Abu Zayyad, who is also a former Cabinet minister, told Al-Monitor that the Palestinian government erred in not differentiating between residents and citizens. “Had the order specified Israeli citizens, the Palestinian government would be within its rights to want to have a security check on a foreign citizen.”

The 330,000 Palestinians who live in East Jerusalem were forced to carry Israeli ID cards as a result of the unilateral Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem on June 28, 1967. Israel considers Jerusalem's Palestinians permanent residents, but Jerusalemites could lose their rights to live in Jerusalem if they have been living outside the city for over seven years.

Jerusalem residents have for some time expressed worries that the gap between them and their fellow Palestinians has been widening. The 1993 Oslo Accord has excluded East Jerusalem and its residents; thus the Palestinian government in Ramallah is not allowed to have any direct relationship with Palestinians from Jerusalem. While a minister of Jerusalem affairs is included in recent Palestinian governments, it appears that this is more of a token appointment without any real power or influence on the decision-making process of the Palestinian government.

Palestinian Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Adnan Husseini did not respond to Al-Monitor’s repeated requests for comment. Numerous organizations and councils have been created to deal with the issues of East Jerusalem, but these bodies have largely been nothing more than desks in Ramallah offices with little serious efforts that engage the residents of Jerusalem, with the term “political orphans” regularly used to describe the situation that Jerusalemites are finding themselves in these days.

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