(photo credit: AP [file])
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has appointed a special adviser on Jerusalem affairs, PA officials in Ramallah said Wednesday, indicating that Israel and the PA are now readying to grapple in earnest with the issue of the city's status.
The officials told The Jerusalem Post the decision was taken ahead of November's US-sponsored Middle East peace conference, where Israel and the Palestinians are expected to focus on "fundamental" issues like Jerusalem, the borders of the future Palestinian state and the problem of the Palestinian refugees.
"The issue of Jerusalem is once again on the table," said one official. "That's why we need someone to be responsible for the Jerusalem portfolio and to prepare for the negotiations with Israel."
The Prime Minister's Office had no response to the report.
The new adviser is Adnan Husseini, the former director-general of the Waqf department in Jerusalem. Husseini served in the Waqf job for more than a decade before he was replaced earlier this year by Azzam al-Khatib.
Husseini belongs to one of Jerusalem's oldest and most important families. His late cousin, Faisal Husseini, was for many years the top PLO leader in the city until his sudden death in 2001.
The new adviser told the Post one of his first tasks would be to try and persuade Israel to reopen Palestinian institutions in the city that were closed down by Israel over the past seven years.
One of these institutions, Orient House, served as the unofficial headquarters of the PLO in Jerusalem. Orient House enjoyed the status of an unofficial diplomatic mission - a fact that angered many in Israel, especially as some foreign ministers insisted on holding talks there with leading Palestinian figures.
Israel had argued that the presence of Orient House and other PLO-linked institutions in the city were in violation of the Oslo Accords, which banned the Palestinians from conducting such activities in Israel. The closure of Orient House was followed by similar moves against at least a dozen PLO-affiliated institutions.
"Jerusalem is living without a soul in the absence of Palestinian institutions," Husseini said in an interview with the Post. "The people of Jerusalem have been suffering because of the closure of their institutions. Today, everyone realizes that Jerusalem can't exist without these institutions, which used to provide essential services to the public."
Husseini said he was prepared to meet with Israeli government officials to discuss the issue if the institutions and other matters related to the day-to-day affairs of the Arab residents.
"We are prepared to open even small windows with Israel," he said. "We are prepared to do anything to serve the interests of our people in Jerusalem and end their suffering."
Husseini appealed to Israel not to waste time with regards to discussing the issue of Jerusalem.
"We believe that we can reach a solution to the issue of Jerusalem," he said. "We hope the Israelis will wake up and realize the importance of the city to the Palestinians. Israel must accept the fact that we will never give up our claim to Jerusalem."
Husseini said Israel must also realize that peace can't be achieved without a solution to the issue of Jerusalem.
"There will be no Palestinian state without Jerusalem as its capital," he said. "This is a holy city and we want Israel to acknowledge this fact. Israel is mistaken if it thinks that the policy of driving the Palestinians out of the city can lead to peace. Peace can't be achieved by denying the rights of others. Disrespect for others is a sign of weakness, not strength."
The Waqf department, which is in charge of the Islamic holy sites in the city, remained under the control of the Jordanians after the Six Day War in 1967. Attempts by the PA over the past 14 years to establish an alternative Waqf department have been thwarted by both Israel and Jordan.
Likud MK Yuval Steinitz on Wednesday said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had proven his hypocrisy by negotiating Jerusalem's future with Abbas. He recalled campaigning for the Knesset with Olmert, who told people to vote for him because he left the Jerusalem mayoralty to defend Jerusalem from a position of power against those who wanted to divide it.
"Olmert is a prime minister with zero public support, waiting for a verdict from the police and the Winograd Commission, who is ready to divide Jerusalem and allow it to be destroyed to save his skin," Steinitz said.
Jerusalem Municipality spokesman Gidi Schmerling declined to comment Wednesday.
Pensioners Minister Rafi Eitan, who recently replaced Immigrant Absorption Minister Ya'acov Edri as minister for Jerusalem affairs, also declined to comment.
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.â€¢