July 15, 1994
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) -- Yasser Arafat angered Israel Friday by asserting that Palestinians can unfurl their flag in Jerusalem. The city, claimed by both sides, is certain to be an explosive issue in peace talks.
"It is my right to raise the Palestinian flag over Jerusalem, over the walls of Jerusalem and over the minarets of Jerusalem and the churches of Jerusalem," Arafat told reporters Friday at the beachfront hotel where he has taken up residence. "This is my right."
Israel's deputy foreign minister, Yossi Beilin, called Arafat's remark
"a very grave statement." "These kind of statements don't bring closer the understanding between the two sides and they should refrain from making them," Beilin told Israel radio.
Government Press Office director Uri Dromi said such comments undermined attempts to build Israeli public confidence in the Israel-PLO accord that brought autonomy to the Gaza Strip and West Bank town of Jericho in May. But he said Israel would try not to let it disrupt the peace process.
"We try to ignore these things," Dromi said. "But they make it difficult for us."
Israel claims east Jerusalem, which it captured in the 1967 Mideast War and annexed, as part of its capital. Palestinians want the eastern sector as capital of a future state in the West Bank and Gaza.
The PLO leader and Israel have been feuding since he moved to Gaza City on Tuesday to run the Palestinian government. On Wednesday, Israel expelled four members of his retinue involved in deadly attacks on Israelis.
Nor was this the first time that Arafat has staked the Palestinian claim to Jerusalem since Israel and the Palestinians signed the accord in May. He repeatedly has alluded to regaining the eastern Arab sector of the city, and shortly after the signing, called for a holy war to liberate it.
But with their apparently inflammatory words and actions, both sides are playing to often critical domestic audiences, and the implementation of autonomy has proceeded pretty much according to schedule.
Arafat spoke Friday after being asked to comment on remarks attributed to a senior aide, Yasser Abed Rabbo.
Abed Rabbo, the information minister in the Palestinian government, was quoted by Israeli media Thursday vowing that Palestinians would regain all of Palestine and fly a flag over Al-Aqsa mosque in east Jerusalem, Islam's third-holiest site.
Because Jerusalem is likely to be the most difficult issue to negotiate, the autonomy accord postpones talks on the city of 160,000 Palestinians and 390,000 Israelis for two years.
But heated rhetoric by both sides has already put Jerusalem square on the agenda.
Israeli right-wingers who oppose compromise with the Palestinians have seized on Arafat's comments to stage protests against the peace agreement in Jerusalem. On July 2, the day after Arafat visited Gaza for the first time in 27 years, they got a turnout of 100,000.
More demonstrations are expected Saturday when activists plan a march around the old walled city on the eve of the Ninth of Ab, an annual fast mourning the destruction of an ancient Jewish temple.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's government has also considered limiting Palestinian political activity in east Jerusalem, to try to keep the PLO from improving its negotiating position over the city.
Later Friday, Arafat went to the al-Omari mosque in Gaza City for his first prayer service since his return to Gaza two weeks ago. Arafat's most fervent political opponents are Islamic fundamentalists, and he has been eager to show that he honors religious tradition to win over middle-of-the-road Muslims.
Flanked by plainclothes security men, Arafat knelt alongside other worshipers on the mosque floor as the prayer leader, Sheik Yassin al-Hamasi, invoked God's support for the Palestinians' efforts to build a state.
But al-Hamasi, alluding to Arafat's appeals for promised donor aid, asserted that salvation was more important than earthly comforts.
"The prophet promised his people paradise," the sheik said. "He did not promise them donor money or housing projects."