The Cable

U.S. urges Israel to halt evictions of Palestinians (UPDATED)

The U.S. government has called on Israeli authorities to refrain from evictions and home demolitions of Palestinians, following news reports Sunday that Israeli security forces had carried out the eviction of 56 Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem. Asked about the evictions at a news conference following a meeting with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh Monday, ...

The U.S. government has called on Israeli authorities to refrain from evictions and home demolitions of Palestinians, following news reports Sunday that Israeli security forces had carried out the eviction of 56 Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem.

Asked about the evictions at a news conference following a meeting with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, "I think these actions are deeply regrettable."

"I have said before that the eviction of families and demolition of homes in East Jerusalem is not in keeping with Israeli obligations, and I urge the Government of Israel and municipal officials to refrain from such provocative actions," Clinton continued. "Both sides have responsibilities to refrain from provocative actions that can block the path toward a comprehensive peace agreement.  Unilateral actions taken by either party cannot be used to prejudge the outcome of negotiations, and they will not be recognized as changing the status quo."

Clinton’s comments echoed a State Department statement provided to Foreign Policy in response to a query about the evictions Sunday. The White House had directed queries on the matter Sunday to the State Department. But the statement does not appear to have been sent to the department’s media distribution list as some such statements and press briefing transcripts regularly are.

The sturn but seemingly measured response may be a sign Washington is preparing to try to move to a new phase in its efforts to advance the peace process, suggested veteran Middle East peace negotiator Aaron David Miller.

"The game is much bigger now, and the final phase of a deal on settlements and confidence builders from the Arabs, all wrapped in a  conference this fall," Miller, now with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, told Foreign Policy in an e-mail Monday. "August is for closing and reassuring –not opening additional problems."

The evictions were condemned by the United Nations, European Union Presidency, and the British consulate in Jerusalem, which said it was "appalled." The British consulate is in the same Sheik Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem where today’s evictions of the two extended Palestinian families took place. One of the families had lived in the home for 53 years. 

The evictions come just days after Defense Secretary Robert Gates, U.S. Special Envoy George Mitchell, and National Security Advisor James Jones led delegations to Israel, Jones’s group to discuss Iran and Gates to discuss bilateral security cooperation between Washington and Jerusalem.

Last month, State Department officials told Israeli ambassador to Washington Michael Oren that the United States opposes Israeli authorities’ recent decision to approve a 20-year-old plan for a Jewish housing project at the site of the old Shepherd Hotel in the same Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem where Sunday’s evictions took place.

UPDATE: The European Union Presidency, held by Sweden’s Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, issued a statement Monday condemning the evictions:

Presidency Statement on evictions in East Jerusalem

The Presidency of the European Union reiterates its serious concern about the continued and unacceptable evictions in East Jerusalem, notably the evictions by Israeli authorities of two families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood on Sunday 2 August 2009.

The Presidency recalls that house demolitions, evictions and settlement activities in East Jerusalem are illegal under international law. In addition, the actions taken by the Israeli Government contravene repeated calls by the international community, including the Quartet, to refrain from any provocative actions in East Jerusalem. These actions confirm a worrying trend that runs counter to the creation of an atmosphere conducive to achieving a viable and credible solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

The Israeli Ambassador in Stockholm has been summoned to the State Secretary at the Foreign Ministry to receive this statement, the EU presidency statement said.

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