Palestinians say no to compromise on Ras al-Amud

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JERUSALEM — Jews refer to it as the Mount of Olives; Palestinians call it Ras al-Amud.

But by either name, it has become the latest focal point of Israeli-Palestinian friction.

A compromise reached last week between the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jewish families living in eastern Jerusalem failed to assuage Palestinian complaints about a Jewish presence in the mostly Arab neighborhood.

Under the compromise that Israel reached Sept. 18 with three Jewish families living in Ras al-Amud, the families left the building voluntarily, but 10 yeshiva students stayed to maintain a Jewish presence.

The compromise saved Netanyahu from having to forcibly remove the families, a politically volatile step given threats from right-wing members of Netanyahu's coalition that such an action would bring down the government.

But Palestinian officials condemned the compromise. Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat called it a "trick," and during a weekend meeting in Cairo with the 22 members of the Arab League, he urged the Arab world not to improve relations with Israel as long as the peace process remains mired in crisis.

Last weekend, Israeli police scuffled with Palestinians protesting against a Jewish presence in Ras al-Amud, which is located near the Old City.

Protests also spread Saturday to the volatile West Bank town of Hebron, but Palestinian police herded away some 20 youths throwing stones at a Jewish settler enclave there.

In eastern Jerusalem, Fuad Hadiyeh, a former resident of the disputed house, insisted that his uncle, Khalil Silwani, owns the structure and has not sold it to Dr. Irving Moskowitz, the U.S. developer who leased the structure to the families.

Hadiyeh said he had been abroad and returned to find that the families had moved in and thrown out his belongings.

On Monday, he unsuccessfully tried to enter the house with his two sons and an entourage of Palestinians, including the mufti of Jerusalem.

Fistfights broke out between the group and police, and a few Palestinian youths were arrested and later released.

Hadiyeh plans to file a trespassing complaint.

Moscowitz's attorney, Eitan Geva, verified that his client bought the property from Jews, not Arabs. Moskowitz purchased it from the Habad Kollel and the Wohlin Kollel, which had been awarded title to the property in 1984 by Israeli courts after a protracted dispute over ownership, Geva said.

According to Geva, the disputed plot was bought in 1887 by the two yeshivot, which later leased it to a local village leader.

In contrast to his reaction to the start of construction at Har Homa earlier this year, Netanyahu came out strongly against the action in Ras al-Amud, saying last week that any decisions regarding building in Jerusalem should be coordinated by the government, not individuals.

Israeli and Palestinian officials were scheduled to hold separate talks with American officials this week in Washington in an effort to restart the negotiations.

The talks were arranged during a recent visit to the region by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy, who flew to New York this week to address the 52nd meeting of the U.N. General Assembly, was scheduled to meet in New York with Albright and Palestinian Authority official Abu-Mazen, who is Arafat's second-in-command.