I make the front page with Blair leak story

This article originally appeared as the lead headline on the front page of Palestine Times, March 21.

Tony Blair: ‘East Jerusalem is occupied territory’

by Asa Winstanley

RAMALLAH — In a private letter to Morocco’s King Muhammad VI, British Prime Minister Tony Blair says his government “considers East Jerusalem to be occupied territory,” the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding (CAABU) said yesterday.

Working as chair of the Organization of the Islamic Conference’s committee on Jerusalem, King Muhammad had sent letters to various heads of state asking them to clarify their position on the status of Jerusalem. In his March 12 reply, Blair stated explicitly that Britain does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over any part of the city.

Leaked to CAABU, and passed on to Palestine Times, the letter represents the Prime Minister’s clearest ever statement on the occupied status of Jerusalem.

Chris Doyle, the Director of CAABU told Palestine Times over the phone, that it has been “a challenge to get any senior government minister to make such an official explicit statement” and that “to get Mr. Blair to say it has been impossible.”

Tony Blair typically avoids strong statements on Palestine-Israel issues, so the letter represents a radical departure for the Prime Minister. “Jerusalem’s status has yet to be determined, and should be resolved as part of a final status agreement,” says Blair in the letter. “Pending agreement, we consider East Jerusalem to be occupied territory. We recognize no one claim to sovereignty over the city. We do not support any action that predetermines final status negotiations on the future of Jerusalem.”

Although the British government has long officially held this position, it is the first time in a publicly available statement that a senior minister has made such an explicit statement in over a decade, and the first time ever for Tony Blair.

Doyle said that the last time a senior British minister had made a statement so clearly in opposition to the Israeli occupation of Jerusalem was Malcolm Rifkind back in 1995. His speech was made to the annual Medical Aid for Palestinians dinner when he was foreign secretary under John Major’s Conservative government.

Doyle said that Tel Aviv would not like the idea of Blair referring to the city as occupied, especially against the background of Israeli excavations near al-Aqsa compound.

Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967, and has claimed sovereignty over the entire city since then, though no other government recognizes the claim — including the United States. In 1980, Israel declared the city to be their “eternal, undivided” capital. The U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 478 in response, declaring it to be a violation of international law.

Palestinians born and living in East Jerusalem have no citizenship in Israel, their status under Israeli law being similar to that of so-called “guest workers” from overseas. They are granted special Jerusalem ID cards but are not citizens of Israel with voting rights.

The Palestinian people consider East Jerusalem their capital, and the recently formed unity government, as other previous Palestinian governments, has spoken of the desire to establish an independent Palestinian state on all of the West Bank including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, occupied by Israel since 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital. The Arab Peace Initiative also endorsed this platform.

CAABU said in a letter to Palestine Times that it “was extremely concerned at ongoing Israeli activities to create facts on the ground in an attempt to predetermine the final status of the city.”

The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, John Dugard, commented recently that “The Wall being built in East Jerusalem is an instrument of social engineering designed to achieve the Judaization of Jerusalem by reducing the number of Palestinians in the city.”

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