In exploring East Jerusalem recently, I come upon a house watched over by a tall Palestinian security guard dressed in black, who would only say that he was guarding the house of someone ‘very important.’
It turns out that the house belongs to none other than Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who travels from there to his office in Ramallah everyday. Fayyad’s wife is a resident of Jerusalem. According to Ha’ aretz, neighbors reported that Fayyad has been living there full time only since last year after becoming the PA’s Prime Minister.
I contacted Danny Ben-Simon, director of the Israeli government press office to ask him whether Fayyad’s living in Beit Hanina undermines Israel’s claim of sovereignty over all of Jerusalem. He responded, “It is quite understood within the context of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, that there are going to be small ironies and this is one of them….in negotiations, everyone has opening positions. We [the Israelis] have our opening positions. We don’t expect all of our opening positions are ones that will be finally agreed upon…”
When contacted, Kadima Knesset member, Otniel Schneller, an orthodox Jew, said, “When there will be negotiations over Jerusalem…if [Beit Hanina] becomes a Palestinian state, then Fayyad will continue to live there, and if not, he can live under Israeli sovereignty and be the Prime Minister of a Palestinian state. On our side [Israel’s], there is no apartheid.”
Prior to 1948, many Jews owned property in Beit Hanina. As Aryeh King, director of the Israel Land Fund, said, “Hundreds of dunams of land in Beit Hanina belonged to Shmuel Salant, the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, and when the Jordanians had control over it [between 1948-1967], they built on it. Since ‘67, the land has been controlled by the Israeli government, and it has let Arabs build homes on it, many without permits…Today there is only one apartment building with Jews living in Beit Hanina”
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem on Mount Scopus once also owned land in Beit Hanina. But, in 2004, Hebrew University sold almost 96 dunams (24 acres) of land in Beit Hanina and the neighboring Shuafat to a Palestinian company owned by a Palestinian bank.
Schneller added that the fact that Fayyad lives in Beit Hanina, and Hebrew University sold its land there, “may in fact influence the final status of Beit Hanina.”
Schneller, who is a former secretary general of the Yesha Council of Jewish settlers in Judea and Samaria, also said, “Beit Hanina is not part of the heart of Jewish historical Jerusalem.” Theoretically, he noted, one day it could become part of Al Quds, a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem.
“Over Beit Hanina, I am willing to compromise,” Shneller said.
Schneller differentiated between Beit Hanina and neighborhoods in the holy basin, such as the Old City,and Sheikk Jarrah. “The neighborhoods in the holy basin must always be under Israeli sovereignty, even if there are special municipal and other jurisdictional arrangements made for Arabs living in the holy basin,” he said.
However, Schneller doesn’t see any chance of reaching an agreement with the Palestinians in the near future as “Israel will insist on sovereignty over the holy basin in Jerusalem,” and, additionally, there are legitimate concerns “that a Palestinian state would become a terrorist state.”
In an interview, Robert Ilatov, Knesset member for Israel Beiteinu, said it was a mistake for Hebrew University to sell its land in Beit Hanina to Palestinians, not Jews. “We have made a lot of mistakes around Hebrew University. We should have been building all around it.”
He added, “the fact that Israel lets Salam Fayyad live in Beit Hanina only shows how liberal we Israelis are.”
Of course, if Beit Hanina ever fell under Palestinian sovereignty and became a terrorist base, the Hebrew University would become just like Sderot.