The Orient House, Statement

14 August 2001
Urgent Appeal
For immediate release:

URGENT APPEAL FROM THE ORIENT HOUSE
 

By occupying the Orient House in East Jerusalem with military means last
Friday at approximately 2 a.m., August 10 2001, the current Israeli
government clearly demonstrated that it intends to evade the necessity to
solve the ongoing Palestinian civilian uprising as well as the overall
Israeli-Palestinian conflict by political means. In stark contrast to
international legitimacy that stresses the illegality of Israeli rule
over East Jerusalem, the Israeli government continues to seize any
opportunity to assert its sovereignty over all of Jerusalem, preempting
any Palestinian hopes to have East Jerusalem as a viable Palestinian
capital in a future Palestinian state.

Under the pretext that the Orient House, the PLO headquarters in East
Jerusalem, was involved in “inciting violence” among the Palestinian
population, an order signed by Public Security Minister Uzi Landau was
issued to occupy and close this vital and internationally recognized
Palestinian institution despite its well-respected role in the peace
process and steady contact with Israeli politicians and organizations.
The order was also extended to other social and economic East Jerusalem
institutions.

As the place where the 1991 Madrid peace initiative had been launched and
as a headquarter for peace talks with Israeli counterparts on numerous
occasions, Orient House has consequently taken on many responsibilities
and functions, all of them related to the efforts of achieving a peaceful
solution based on the belief that Israel would act as an honest and fair
partner in peace negotiations. Within this context and from the beginning
of the peace process, Orient House was strongly and successfully involved
in second track negotiations solving crucial issues towards comprehensive
peace. Different governments, mainly European governments that acted as
host countries, sponsored second track negotiations.

Among the Israeli organizations and individuals that were and are engaged
in continuous cooperation with the Orient House and have a shared
commitment for a peaceful coexistence are the Economic Cooperation
Foundation, Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, IPCRI, International
Center for Peace in the Middle East and other Israeli peace movements.
Especially Yossi Beilin, Ronni Milo, MK Chaim Ramon, current Justice
Minister Meir Shatrit, Gideon Azra and several MKs of different parties
from the entire Israeli political spectrum participated in second track
negotiations. The director of Peres Center, Ron Pundak, has maintained
throughout many years a strong relation with the Orient House.

In August 2000 current Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres attended a
workshop hosted by the Washington Institute for Peace where he engaged in
intensive dialogue with Faisal Husseini on the state of the Oslo peace
process. Even two weeks before his unexpected death on May 31st 2001, the
late Faisal Husseini was joining a meeting at Harvard University to
explore all options for a solution to the current Palestinian uprising
and a possible reopening of peace talks with the Israeli government.
Ze’ev Schiff, Ami Ayalon, Oded Iran also attended this meeting. A
Palestinian delegation from the Orient House has just recently held
second track negotiations with MKs from the Israeli Labor Party and other
Israeli intellectuals in Italy discussing the status of Jerusalem as a
continuous effort sponsored by the Italian Center for Peace in the Middle
East.

Furthermore, the late Faisal Husseini played a crucial role in the
multilateral talks of the five working groups that were initiated after
the Madrid Conference by using the Orient House as the seat of the
multilateral process.

The Jerusalem Task Force (JTF), an official body of the Palestinian
Negotiations Affairs Department/PLO headed by Mr. Mahmoud Abbas, has
diligently elaborated a high number of confidential and valuable
information and maps concerning developmental strategic prospects for
East Jerusalem to assist Palestinian negotiators. Israeli police under
the pretext of “security” has confiscated all the documents, files and
information that has been compiled and created by the JTF in its office
spaces inside the Orient House. This Israeli action illustrates the total
disrespect of the required and internationally supported integrity of the
Orient House and the Palestinian leadership as a partner to the peace
negotiations.

Due to its location in East Jerusalem, Orient House became increasingly
important in establishing organizations and initiating several projects
working on the crucial issue of preserving Palestinian presence, culture
and necessary infrastructure in Arab East Jerusalem. To overcome the
structural discrimination implemented by Israeli policies in terms of
services offered to Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the Orient House has
always functioned as an indispensable social welfare body for Palestinian
citizens in need of urgent help.

It is worthwhile mentioning that on the eve of the Madrid peace process
in 1991, an understanding was reached with the Israeli Government under
Yitzhak Shamir with the guarantee from the US to protect the integrity of
the Orient House. A letter sent by then US President George Bush sen.
stressing that the Madrid peace process “could not have been initiated
without the personal leadership of Faisal Husseini” bolstered this
understanding. Additionally, on the condition to enter into the Oslo
peace process in 1993, Shimon Peres sent a letter to late Norwegian
Foreign Minister Holst confirming that Palestinian institutions in East
Jerusalem have a right to maintain their functions and responsibilities
and that the Israeli government encourages the development of Palestinian
institutions.

By functioning as well as being acknowledged as the official address by
diplomatic missions, a platform for foreign representatives and
consulates in East Jerusalem, the international community has transferred
legitimacy to the Orient House as the official national representative
body of the PLO in Occupied East Jerusalem. The mere fact that Orient
House played a crucial role in initiating and consequently participating
in the peace process and acted as a permanent address for the
international community to meet with Palestinian political
representatives illustrates that the international community has not
recognized Israeli sovereignty in East Jerusalem in accordance with UN
General Assembly Resolution 181, UN Security Council Resolution 242 and
public international law in general. Orient House demands from the
international community to concur with international agreements and force
the Israeli government to stop the unjustified occupation and closure of
the Orient House and other East Jerusalem institutions, which further
creates a political void in East Jerusalem, strengthening actions of
extremist parties.

The Orient House calls upon the US and the EU as well as the
international community in general and especially Israeli institutions,
organizations and individuals that have supported and cooperated with the
Orient House in the above mentioned efforts to bring about peace between
the Palestinian people and Israel to uphold and comply with their
commitment and use all means to force the Israeli government to
immediately reopen the Orient House and all closed institutions aimed for
real coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians. The Orient House
urges the international community to raise awareness about the blatant
and discriminatory violations committed by the current Israeli Government
against the Palestinian civilian population. If the international
community does not intervene at this stage, Israeli violations of
Palestinian rights, such as settlement construction, confiscation of land
and collective punishment, will continue with a higher intensity
resulting in unprecedented deterioration of the situation in the region.