(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Palestinian Authority is hoping that the intervention of the US State Department with Israel to halt a construction project in Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood would be the first step toward taking action against new homes in Jewish neighborhoods established in the parts of the city annexed after 1967.
"There is no difference between a settlement in the West Bank and a so-called neighborhood in east Jerusalem," said Hatem Abdel Qader, who until recently served as PA minister for Jerusalem affairs. "In both cases we are talking about territories that were occupied in the 1967 war."
The Palestinian Authority, which has never recognized Israel's annexation of the Old City and the Arab villages of Jerusalem after the Six Day War, continues to refer to neighborhoods like French Hill, Ramot, Gilo, Armon Hanatziv and Pisgat Ze'ev as "settlements."
Some PA officials have even been talking about the need to evacuate the "Jerusalem settlements" as part of a final peace treaty between the Palestinians and Israel. There is no difference between Ma'aleh Adumim and Gilo, they emphasize.
Despite this stance, the PA has almost never demanded that Israel refrain from building new homes in Jewish neighborhoods like French Hill and Pisgat Ze'ev.
Instead, the PA has focused its efforts on trying to prevent Jewish groups from purchasing more land or buildings in Arab neighborhoods in the city such as Silwan, the Muslim Quarter, Wadi Joz and Sheikh Jarrah. These efforts, needless to say, have thus far ended in little success.
During the era of former US president George W. Bush, the Palestinians rarely complained about construction projects in the eastern sector of Jerusalem.
So why the PA's sudden appeal to the new US administration to stop the construction project in Sheikh Jarrah?
There are probably two reasons.
First, the row between the Obama administration and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's government over construction in Jewish settlements in the West Bank is seen by the PA leadership in Ramallah as a "positive development." Since Obama appears to share this leadership's view that the settlements are the major obstacle to peace in the Middle East, why not demand that he also halt the construction of new "settlements" in Jerusalem?
"Why not try? It might work," remarked a PA official in Ramallah.
Second, the PA has recently come under strong criticism for "neglecting" the affairs of Jerusalem. Abdel Qader, the former PA minister, resigned after he discovered that the PA wasn't even prepared to give him a budget to buy office furniture for the Ministry of Jerusalem Affairs.
The PA government of Salaam Fayad has also been attacked for failing to invest in Jerusalem's Arab neighborhoods.
By demanding that Israel stop the Sheikh Jarrah project, Fayad's government is seeking to send a message to the Palestinians that, contrary to the widely held perception, the PA has not abandoned Jerusalem.
To further reassure the Palestinians, Fayad over the weekend appointed himself as minister for Jerusalem Affairs and announced that his government would be investing tens of millions of dollars in the city.
Jerusalem, he said, is a "top national priority for the Palestinians and that's how we are dealing with it. We will give financial aid to many institutions and organizations in the city."
The way Fayad and many Palestinians see it is that Israel is seeking to create irreversible facts on the ground in Jerusalem before the beginning of final-status talks on the future of the city.
"These attempts [by Israel] will fail and east Jerusalem will become the eternal capital of our Palestinian state," Fayad said, calling for an end to settlement construction in all the Palestinian territories, "including Jerusalem and its surroundings."