Friday, July 30, 1999 | return to: international


Palestinian official visits Knesset as private guest

by LIAT COLLINS, Jerusalem Post Service

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JERUSALEM -- A top Palestinian official toured the Knesset on Monday but made clear that his stop did not translate into recognizing Israel's sovereignty over Jerusalem.

Ahmed Qurie, the Palestinian Legislative Council speaker also known as Abu Alla, stopped by the Knesset as the guest of Speaker Avraham Burg.

"First of all, Jerusalem is part of the Palestinian and Arab territories occupied in 1967 and it is subject to U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, that there should be a withdrawal from East Jerusalem," Qurie said. "Secondly, Jerusalem is one of the issues of the permanent-status negotiations and therefore when we sit at the table we will determine together the future of Jerusalem.

"And thirdly, we are looking to Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. That's the only solution in my point of view. The only solution is as a capital of two states."

Qurie's visit was marked by heckling from Knesset members of the far-right National Union Party and later by scuffling in the Knesset corridors between supporters of the outlawed Kach movement and Arab Knesset members.

Burg met Qurie at the Knesset gates at the start of what was defined as a private visit. Burg took him on a quick tour before the two exchanged gifts and held a closed meeting.

Qurie signed the Knesset speaker's visitors book: "I am pleased to visit the Knesset as a step toward supporting peace." He also invited Burg to a reciprocal visit to the Palestinian Legislative Council in Ramallah.

As Qurie was escorted to Burg's chambers, Knesset member Michael Kleiner of National Union-Herut called out to them: "It is shameful that a man who has stepped on the Israeli flag and described the new neighborhoods of Jerusalem as occupied territory should set foot in the Knesset."

Kleiner said he had invited Tiran Pollack of Kach to the Knesset for Qurie's visit because Pollack had lost two sisters in a Jerusalem bus bombing. Pollack was not given permission to enter until Qurie had left.

"It is disgusting that he, a terror victim, should be kept outside the Knesset while this man is allowed inside. The country is committing suicide," Kleiner said.

Several Kach supporters ran into Arab Knesset members Ahmed Tibi of Hadash and Taleb a-Sanaa of the United Arab List by an elevator and accused them of being terrorists. Knesset guards separated them.

At a press conference, Burg said a similar invitation to Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat "would be an outcome of the final-status negotiations."

He also repeated his desire to see Syrian President Hafez Assad address the Knesset as part of the peace process between the two countries.

Palestinian lawmakers gave Qurie's visit mixed reviews with several saying it would have been better to wait and see whether the new government implements the Wye accords and other agreements.

While some viewed the visit as a boost to peace efforts and an advance in status for the Palestinian Legislative Council, others stressed that Qurie's action did not represent the views of all 88-members of the fledgling Palestinian legislature.

"I will welcome such visits once the Israeli government implements the agreements it has signed," said Ahmed Batsh, a legislator from Jerusalem. "Then it would be appropriate to have exchanges, and to welcome MKs in the legislative council. But without that, no."

Legislator Musa Zaabout of Gaza City also criticized Qurie, saying his visit had effectively recognized Israeli claims in Jerusalem without Israel according any similar recognition to Palestinian claims.

"I consider what he did to be saying: 'Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.' But in my opinion we shouldn't recognize Jerusalem as capital of Israel as long as we don't have our own independent state and our borders."

But Salah Tamari, chairman of the PLC's land and settlements committee, backed the visit.

"I'm for anything that will reactivate the peace process and help put it in the right direction, whether it is a visit to the Knesset or a visit by Knesset members to the council. Whatever can contribute to bringing us together and opening a new page, I support."

Ben Lynfield of the Jerusalem Post Service contributed to this report.


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