Palestinian Authority meets EU in Jerusalem for first time since 2001


A SENIOR Palestinian Authority figure has held an official meeting with an EU emissary in east Jerusalem for the first time in more than eight years.

Palestinian presidential office chief Rafiq Husseini and experts from the authority’s negotiations unit had talks yesterday with Norwegian foreign minister Jonas Gahr Store at Augusta Victoria hospital near the Mount of Olives.

Although Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas met Mr Store on Monday in Ramallah, yesterday’s gathering in Jerusalem, the first such meeting since 2001 when Israel barred such encounters, was highly significant.

Until 2001, EU ministers and delegations made a point of calling on the PLO official responsible for Jerusalem, Faisal Husseini at Orient House, his headquarters in the eastern sector of the city.

Faisal Husseini kept alive the Palestinian claim to east Jerusalem by greeting diplomats at Orient House, but also assembled an archive of Palestinian title deeds to land in the city and staged peaceful protests to prevent Israel from demolishing Palestinian homes.

He died in May 2001. That August, Israeli police and intelligence agents raided Orient House, seized the documents kept there and closed the institution. Since then, Israel shut down all official Palestinian organisations in Jerusalem and made it very difficult for Palestinian non-governmental organisations to function.

When representatives of the Quartet – consisting of the EU, US, UN and Russia – met last week in Brussels, the EU and Russia called for the reopening of Orient House and other Palestinian institutions in east Jerusalem as a confidence-building measure designed to encourage Mr Abbas to resume negotiations with Israel.

However, Dr Mahdi Abdel Hadi, who heads a Palestinian think tank in east Jerusalem, told The Irish Times: “Israel is prepared to close its eyes to a meeting in Augusta Victoria. It’s a hospital, the meeting can be justified on medical grounds.

“But an Israeli government under [Binyamin] Netanyahu and [Avigdor] Lieberman will never allow Orient House to reopen. No one is taking this seriously.”

Last week, Mr Netanyahu declared that Israel would “never” allow east Jerusalem to become the capital of a future Palestinian state. Meanwhile, caretaker Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad and EU representative Christian Berge yesterday signed an agreement for the EU provision of €160 million for budgetary support for the authority in 2010.