June 1, 1994
JERUSALEM (AP) -- Yasser Arafat has threatened a "holy war" to liberate Jerusalem. Yitzhak Rabin warned he may boot key PLO offices out of the city.
A war of words is escalating between Israel and the PLO over the future status of Jerusalem, the most sensitive issue on the Arab-Israeli agenda.
Sharp words are everywhere: in Israel's parliament, on television talk shows, in newspapers and the cafes of the spiritually divided city of 560,000 people.
Arafat stirred anger among Israelis with a speech last month in a Johannesburg, South Africa, mosque in which he called for a "jihad," or holy war, to free the city from Israeli rule.
"Jihad means genocide. It is inconceivable that the one who made peace ... talks of genocide," said Shmuel Meir, the city's fervently devout deputy mayor, explaining why he called for the assassination of Arafat.
Jibril Rajoub, the new PLO security chief for Jerusalem and the West Bank, recently told Arab villagers in Israel's Negev Desert that Palestinians
"will continue the struggle until we establish a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital." "The Israelis must withdraw from the eastern side of Jerusalem because Jerusalem is a red line for us," he said.
Each side accuses the other of trying to create "facts on the ground" that will reinforce competing claims to the city in advance of negotiations, which under the Israel-PLO accord do not have to start for another two years.
PLO officials complain that Israel has sealed off Jerusalem from the West Bank, barring Palestinians from jobs, markets and the al-Aqsa Mosque -- one of Islam's holiest sites.
"We are fighting a battle to end the isolation of Jerusalem from the other parts of the occupied territories," said Faisal Husseini, the PLO official in charge of Jerusalem policy.
Husseini spoke at the Orient House, the three-story stone building that has been a focus of Israeli unease because of its role both as a PLO foreign ministry and a spawning ground for PLO policy.
Palestinians also complain that Israel, to strengthen its hold on the land, is building new Jewish neighborhoods in the eastern sector of the city captured from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war.
Since then Israel has taken nearly 40 percent of the land in the Arab sector and built 70,000 apartments for Jews with 60,000 more planned. As a result, Jews now slightly outnumber the 150,000 Palestinians in the east.
The PLO is also busily at work building up its institutions -- more than 200 so far -- in an effort to lay the groundwork for the city to be the capital of a Palestinian state.
It is already the economic, intellectual and religious focal point for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
For Jews, Jerusalem is the site of the last remnant of the ancient Jewish Temple and the religious heartbeat of Judaism, as Rabbi Menachem Porush reminded parliament Wednesday.
"If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth," he quoted Psalm 137 during a speech urging the government to stand firm against PLO encroachment.
Israel annexed east Jerusalem three weeks after it was captured on June 6, 1967, and proclaimed the united city as its "eternal capital." The claim is not recognized by most nations, including the United States, which has its embassy in Tel Aviv.
Rabin said the PLO had promised to set up its autonomy headquarters in Jericho or the Gaza Strip and warned he might have to close PLO offices in Jerusalem if they tried to run the self-rule government from there.
Rabin stepped up police surveillance of PLO activities at Orient House and other sites. Officials said the government might cut off telephones, water and electricity to encourage PLO offices to get out of town.
Columnist Yosef Harif attacked Rabin for not doing enough while the PLO creates a "de facto capital" in East Jerusalem.
"Whether we want it or not, the battle for Jerusalem is on," he wrote in the Maariv daily. "For Rabin there is no alternative but to prove, with action, who is the landlord in Jerusalem."
But so far, PLO officials say they have no orders -- written or otherwise -- to move.
"Even if such orders come, I'm staying here," said Hassan Abu Libdeh, who heads the economic office that is to channel hundreds of millions of dollars of aid to autonomy areas.