Jerusalem municipality freezes millions from UN and church bank accounts


The Dormition church on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. (photo: Anna Kaplan / Flash90)

Jerusalem mayor using international organizations in budget dispute with Finance Ministry.

By Michael Bachner | The Times of Israel | Feb 4, 2018

Jerusalem enjoys an annual “capital grant” from the [Israeli Finance Ministry] that helps it offset low tax revenue due to large populations with relatively high percentages that are not part of the taxpaying workforce, including roughly a third of the city’s population that is made up of ultra-Orthodox Jews and another third of Palestinian Arabs.

The Jerusalem municipality has handed out fines totaling millions of dollars to properties owned by the United Nations and by churches, citing a new legal opinion that says the properties are not legally defined as places of worship and therefore aren’t entitled to exemptions from property tax.

The step appeared to be an escalation of a dispute between the municipality and the Finance Ministry over funds. Mayor Nir Barkat has been conducting a high-profile campaign against Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon that included instructing workers to dump trash at the entrance to the ministry offices in Jerusalem and threatening to lay off more than 2,000 city employees.

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US to open Jerusalem embassy in 2019


Vice President Pence in Cairo, Jan 20, 2018. (photo: Getty Images)

Pence announces plans to accelerate the move in a speech to the Israeli Knesset.

By Oliver Holmes | The Guardian | Jan 22, 2018

Q&A: What will US recognition of Jerusalem mean for the peace process?

The peace process has been at death’s door since the former secretary of state John Kerry’s peace mission ended in failure in 2014. But the international community — apart from the US — is united in saying recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is disastrous for any hopes of reviving meaningful talks. The status of Jerusalem is one of the pivotal issues that diplomats and peacemakers have said must be agreed between the two parties in negotiations.

Palestinians will see Trump’s announcement as the end of their hopes and demands for East Jerusalem as a capital of a future independent state. While few want a return to violence, many will feel diplomatic efforts have got them no closer to a state of their own.

The Israeli government will be thrilled. Ever since it captured (and later annexed) East Jerusalem in the 1967 six-day war, Israel has claimed the city as its “eternal and undivided” capital, and has longed for international recognition. Some 200,000 Israelis living in illegal settlements will also celebrate.

The US will open its embassy in Jerusalem by the end of 2019, ahead of schedule, the vice-president, Mike Pence, has said. Arab-Israeli politicians were ejected from the Knesset at the start of Pence’s speech for heckling.

“In the weeks ahead, our administration will advance its plan to open the US embassy in Jerusalem – and that United States embassy will open before the end of next year,” he said in a speech to roaring applause in the Israeli Knesset.

Speaking during a two-day visit, Pence said Donald Trump had “righted a 70-year wrong” by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

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Pence and Jordan’s king “agree to disagree” on Jerusalem


Vice President Mike Pence, left, had a “very frank discussion” with King Abdullah II of Jordan, right, in Amman on Sunday. (photo: Khalil Mazraawi / AFP / Getty Images)

Pence had delayed his trip to the region amid the furor over Trump’s decisions, which were seen as pro-Israel and a slap in the face to Palestinians.

By Rana Sweis | The New York Times | Jan 21, 2018

“Trump and Israel want to end the Palestinian cause; they want to erase the idea of Palestinian refugees. They want to pressure Jordan, the Palestinians and others to give into the demands of an imaginary peace process that benefits only Israel, and that is unacceptable.”
— Abdul Rahman Qanas, 52, a resident of the Baqaa, the largest refugee camp in Jordan

Vice President Mike Pence met with King Abdullah II of Jordan on Sunday, telling reporters afterward that they had “agreed to disagree” on the American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The meeting in Amman, on the second day of Mr. Pence’s visit to the Middle East, came as tension has increased between the two allies over President Trump’s decision on Jerusalem last month and his decision last week to withhold aid to the United Nations agency that serves Palestinian refugees.

Speaking before the meeting with Mr. Pence at Al Husseiniya Palace in Amman, King Abdullah reiterated his support for “East Jerusalem as a capital of an independent Palestinian state living side by side with a secure and recognized Israel,” Petra, Jordan’s official news agency, reported.

Jordan is also home to more than two million Palestinian refugees who could be affected by the cut in American aid to the United Nations agency.

Mr. Pence said the two leaders had a “very frank discussion.”

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US role as Mideast peace broker may be over


Mike Pence, an evangelical Christian, has visited Israel four times before and pushed for Trump’s inflammatory policies in the Middle East. (photo: Alex Brandon / AP)

Under Trump, relations between the Palestinian leadership and Washington have soured – and Pence’s trip is expected to confirm the enmity.

By Oliver Holmes | The Guardian | Jan 20, 2018

Trump has said he wants to revitalize long-stalled peace talks in pursuit of what he has described as the “ultimate deal.” Yet when Pence touches down in Tel Aviv on Sunday evening, the US’s role as mediator in the conflict may be over for good.

It’s not the trip to the Holy Land that Mike Pence might have imagined. For a start, the US vice-president — an evangelical Christian — is no longer welcome in Jesus’s birthplace of Bethlehem.

Donald Trump doomed Pence’s chances of a visit to the West Bank when he reversed decades of US policy last month by recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. This broke a longstanding international consensus that the issue would be negotiated in peace talks with the Palestinians, who also claim parts of the city.

While Trump did not rule out a future division of Jerusalem, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, swiftly rescinded Pence’s invitation to meet him and visit Bethlehem, while senior Christian clerics in Egypt — where Pence arrives on Saturday at the start of his four-day trip ­— also cancelled planned events.

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Jerusalem: It’s tense, crowded and can feel like a jail


Israeli border police officers responding to a disturbance in the Muslim Quarter after Friday prayers. (photo: Uriel Sinai / The New York Times)

This is a tense city on a good day.

By David Halbfinger | The New York Times | Dec 9, 2017

“There’s a big religion problem in Jerusalem. It’s a city of racism. Once there’s a little bit of balagan [chaos] between Jews and Arabs, Jews won’t go in my taxi, and Arabs won’t go to the mall. And if I go into a religious neighborhood and they find out I’m Arab, they’ll stone my car. . . . There will never be peace here. If they take all the Arabs away, the Jews would eat each other. And the same thing with us.”
— Jerusalem taxi driver Muhammad Ziada

You feel it behind the wheel: The traffic signals turn red and yellow to alert a coming green. Hesitate a half-second before accelerating? A honking horn. Schoolgirls gesture at motorists as they step into a crosswalk, fingertips bunched and faces scowling: Will you wait, or what?

You see it in the crowding: Overstuffed apartments spilling onto one another, in teeming Palestinian neighborhoods, and in ghetto-like ultra-Orthodox enclaves, a few blocks apart on either side of the Green Line, the pre-1967 boundary with the West Bank.

You hear it in the way people talk — “The Arabs,” “The Jews” — about people with whom they have been sentenced to share a tiny patch of soil atop a ridge with no strategic value, over which the world has been battling for thousands of years, and negotiating on and off for decades, with no end in sight.

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Emboldened by Trump, Israelis try redrawing Jerusalem’s boundaries


Palestinian laborers work at a construction site in a new housing project in the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim, near Jerusalem, in Feb 2017. (photo: Oded Balilty / AP)

Israeli leaders are re-engineering Jerusalem’s demographic balance by redrawing the city’s map to exclude Arab neighborhoods and include Israeli settlements.

By Loveday Morris and Ruth Eglash | The Washington Post | Jan 12, 2018

The director of Israeli human rights group B’Tselem [says] there is a battle underway between those who want to continue “smart occupation,” which manages to “fly two inches below international outrage” while incrementally shifting facts on the ground, and those who advocate “dumb occupation” — moving forward with formal annexation.

Since becoming mayor of Maale Adumim more than 20 years ago, Benny Kashriel has doggedly campaigned for his community to be recognized as part of Israel.

Now, with President Trump in the White House, Kashriel thinks it may just happen.

His settlement is around four miles east of Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank. Most of the international community, including the United States, considers its construction to be illegal, built on land captured during the 1967 war.

Still, it has steadily grown from what began as a cluster of prefabricated buildings erected by 23 families in the 1970s into a burgeoning satellite city of Jerusalem. Palm trees line the wide roads of what looks like a Florida suburb. Red-roofed houses and high-rises are home to 42,000 people, who are served by all of the accoutrements of a modern city: schools, restaurants, cafes and a shopping mall.

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Palestinian national dish fuels Al-Aqsa protests

A Palestinian woman prepares maqlouba at her home in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber

A Palestinian woman prepares maqluba at her home in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber, Aug 21, 2017. (photo: Ammar Awad / Reuters)

Maqluba, the beloved traditional Palestinian dish, has become a tradition of the protests in Jerusalem and elsewhere, reinforcing Palestinian community and solidarity.

By Ahmad Melhem | Al-Monitor | Jan 11, 2018

“During the sit-in against Trump’s decision at the Damascus Gate, I made sure to serve maqluba, a popular Palestinian national dish, to the young protesters as a way to underline that Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine, with all its people, food and culture. People are now keen to have maqluba every week with their families in Al-Aqsa’s squares as a kind of tradition and custom to guard the mosque. . . . The true maqluba is not made with rice, chicken and vegetables but with steadfastness, persistence and perseverance and with shouts and cheers when flipped upside down.”

While hundreds of demonstrators shouted slogans on Dec 11 against US President Donald Trump in front of the Damascus Gate, one of the main entrances to Al-Aqsa, Khadija Khweis and her friend Hanadi al-Halawani were flipping pots of maqluba to serve to the protesters. In the last 12 months, this traditional food, also called the “dish of victory,” has become a part of the Palestinian protests.

Every Sunday throughout December, when people of Jerusalem held demonstrations to protest Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, they would bring large pots of maqluba, which literally means “upside down” in Arabic, and eat it under the eyes of the Israeli police. The flipping of the pots as the cooks shouted “Allahu Akbar” became a ritual, and the dish also came to be called by both the Palestinians and the Israelis as the “dish of spite.”

Halawani told Al-Monitor, “During the sit-in against Trump’s decision at the Damascus Gate, I made sure to serve maqluba, a popular Palestinian national dish, to the young protesters as a way to underline that Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine, with all its people, food and culture. People are now keen to have maqluba every week with their families in Al-Aqsa’s squares as a kind of tradition and custom to guard the mosque.”

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