RAMALLAH, West Bank — The Palestinian Central Council (PCC) in Ramallah convened Jan. 14-15 and decided to reactivate the Jerusalem Secretariat.
The secretariat was the first municipal council elected in Jerusalem after the Jordanian government (the official custodian of Jerusalem's holy sites) turned the city into a secretariat in 1955. The council continued to operate until the beginning of June 1967, when Israel occupied the eastern part of Jerusalem, dissolved the body and expelled its members to Jordan, where the secretariat is currently based. The council is headed by Zaki al-Ghul, who took over the presidency after the council’s secretary-general, Ruhi al-Khatib, died in exile.
Jihad Abu Zneid, a PCC member who pushed for reactivation, said in a press statement Jan. 16 the action comes in light of Jerusalemites’ urgent need for a Palestinian body to fill their daily needs and provide them with necessary services.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) is not allowed to hold municipal elections in East Jerusalem, which Israel has occupied since 1967. This means that no Palestinian council is covering the services that fall within the responsibility of the municipal council, hence the need to activate the Jerusalem Secretariat.
Abu Zneid added that the PCC unanimously voted to reactivate and restructure the Amman-based secretariat.
Abu Zneid said in the same press statement that the PCC suggested calling on 2,000 Jerusalemite figures, including members of the PCC and the Palestinian Legislative Council, to elect a new Jerusalem Secretariat that can operate as a shadow municipality and carry out municipal functions that can serve the population.
In 1999, Palestinian President Yasser Arafat attempted to form a new Jerusalem Secretariat and appointed new members, but that council failed to provide any services until 2012, when President Mahmoud Abbas decreed that a new secretariat be appointed.
Azzam Abu al-Saud, who was appointed a secretariat member in 1999 by Arafat and who remained in office until 2012, told Al-Monitor that the current PCC decision is a "tempest in a teapot," as its goal is only to spread pro-PA propaganda. He said the body will be impossible to reactivate for two main reasons: Israeli law, which prosecutes any sovereign Palestinian action in Jerusalem and deals with Jerusalem as a unified municipality, and Israel's decision that the secretariat is illegal.
He added, “It will be a shadow council that won’t do anything on the ground.”
Asked about his membership in the council during the previous period, Abu al-Saud replied, “We have not been prosecuted, as we did not do anything on the ground, and the council only convened twice, once in Amman and another time in Ramallah, and not all of its members attended those two meetings.”
He added, “None of the formal councils will do anything for Jerusalem, which needs a body that can work on the ground inside Jerusalem in order to solve the problems of Jerusalemites."
Hatem Abdel Qader, Fatah's official in charge of Jerusalem issues, doesn't agree with Abu al-Saud and told Al-Monitor that had there been a political will, it would have been possible to activate the role of this secretariat.
“But neither the PLO nor the PA have the political will to do so, as they want it to remain a pro forma body that does not [actually] do anything,” he added.
Abdel Qader, who served as the minister of Jerusalem affairs in the Palestinian caretaker government in 2009 and resigned only 40 days into his tenure, had vainly called while in office for a budget to activate the Jerusalem Secretariat, and this is one of the reasons that led to his resignation, he told Al-Monitor.
“We called for the activation of the Jerusalem Secretariat for it to provide services to citizens and have a political role, but our calls fell on deaf ears, and the secretariat remained a pro forma body because Jerusalemites never felt its presence. The secretariat still lacks a plan of action, a budget, a program and a vision,” he added.
Abdel Qader said Israeli laws and even prosecution of any action on the PA's part can't keep the Jerusalem Secretariat from activating when there is sufficient political will and a budget.
He said the secretariat should remove waste from the streets, restore dilapidated houses and provide services to citizens.
“Having this secretariat act as a shadow municipality can be of paramount importance, and if the occupation is to prosecute us, then let this be another battle we fight in Jerusalem,” Abdel Qader added.
Given its weak potential and the lack of a real Palestinian political will to activate it, the current Jerusalem Secretariat will, for now, continue to serve as a mere office for Ghul.
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