Palestinians denounce U.S. bill to recognize Jerusalem

Wednesday, October 2, 2002

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- On Tuesday, ministers and other Palestinians fumed at the new U.S. legislation that encouraged recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, warning that it would complicate peace efforts and could cost lives.

Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat said President Bush's signing of the bill Monday "undermines all efforts being exerted to revive the peace process and put it back on track." He called it "a flagrant violation" of agreements signed by the United States and Israel to negotiate Jerusalem's permanent status.

Bush has said he doesn't consider the bill's provisions on Jerusalem to be binding.

The bill also said no money could be spent on official U.S. documents that listed Israel without identifying Jerusalem as the capital.

Israel captured east Jerusalem and its sites holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims in the 1967 war, annexing it. The current government sees the entire city as Israel's capital. The Palestinians claim east Jerusalem for their own capital.

The previous, more moderate government of Ehud Barak had offered the Palestinians a share of east Jerusalem -- but the sides could not agree on the details, or other issues, and peace talks broke down in January 2001 after the eruption of violence a few months earlier.

The United States has not recognized the annexation and says the status of Jerusalem should be determined in negotiations. Congress has passed previous measures requiring the government to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but successive presidents have delayed it for security reasons.

Bush insisted that "U.S. policy regarding Jerusalem has not changed" and he would not treat the bill's provisions as an order because they would "impermissibly interfere with the president's constitutional authority to conduct the nation's foreign affairs."

U.S. Embassy spokesman Paul Patin said of the clauses on Jerusalem: "We don't consider them as binding."

But in statements issued in Beirut, the militant Hamas and Islamic Jihad called the U.S. bill "aggression" against the Palestinians.

Reacting to a critical report by a human rights group, the Israeli Army and a Palestinian official on Tuesday denied accusations by London-based Amnesty International that both sides inadvertently encourage the killing of children.

The Israeli army spokeswoman, Brig. Gen. Ruth Yaron, said in a statement that military police have opened about 220 investigations since the fighting began, some in connection with incidents in which children were killed.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said criticism of the Palestinian Authority was unfair. "The Palestinian Authority has always stood to condemn all attacks in Israeli civilians, not just children," he said.

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