The East Jerusalem issue

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MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman. This is The World. U.S. Special Envoy George Mitchell has cancelled a planned visit to the Middle East. It's the latest sign of a rift between the U.S. and Israel. U.S. officials are upset over Israel's refusal to stop building Jewish homes in East Jerusalem. And today there was visible Palestinian anger over that same issue. Clashes erupted in East Jerusalem between Palestinian protestors and Israeli security forces. The World's Matthew Bell reports from Jerusalem.


MATTHEW BELL: The trouble started this morning with groups of masked Palestinians throwing rocks and burning tires in parts of East Jerusalem. Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 War. It annexed the territory soon after, but most governments around the world don't recognize the territory as part of Israel. Successive Israeli leaders have called Jerusalem - East and West � the eternal capital of the Jewish state. But current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has acknowledged Washington's concerns about disputed East Jerusalem. He recently delayed plans for an archeological park in one East Jerusalem neighborhood that could mean the demolition of dozens of Arab homes. [PH] Eye-dah Rishek lives in one of those houses with her husband and seven children.

FEMALE TRANSLATOR: [FOR EYE-DAH RISHEK, SPEAKING IN ARABIC] If they demolish our house, which they will, we will live in a tent. But the problem is, they're confiscating the land, too, on which the house is built. So we will not even have land to put our tent on.

BELL: The Rishek family says they applied for a permit to build. It was denied. But they needed somewhere to live so they went ahead with construction four years ago. Jerusalem authorities say buildings slated for demolition were built illegally, and the families were offered other homes.

Another controversy for Palestinians this week is the opening of a newly renovated synagogue in the Old City. Some say it's yet another sign that the Israelis want to take over all of Jerusalem. But Israel says Palestinians are playing with fire by calling for a mass movement to quote �defend al Aksa�, the mosque at the center of Jerusalem's Old City. If that kind of rhetoric risks sounding like a call for war to American officials, Marwan Shahban says that's not fair. He's a member of the Fatah party's regional office in Jerusalem.

FEMALE INTERPRETER: [FOR MARWAN SHAHBAN, SPEAKING IN ARABIC] It is ironic that the Settlement Expansion Project eating up Palestinian areas and that is spreading like cancer does not irritate the United States of America, or they do not describe it as war, while our call for protecting the Aksa mosque is considered as a holy war.

BELL: Leaders of the Islamic militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza, called for a so-called �Day of Rage� today. More moderate Palestinians, like Shahban, say they understand the sentiment, but he wants the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank to get back to negotiations with Israel.

FEMALE INTERPRETER: [FOR MARWAN SHAHBAN, SPEAKING IN ARABIC] The more it does not engage in negotiations, the more it gives Israel the chance to consolidate its facts on the ground.

BELL: Facts on the ground happen to be Arieh King's specialty. He's with a group called the Israel Land Fund, which is active in helping Jewish families settle in East Jerusalem.

ARIEH KING: This is the City of David, the Old City, Mount of Olives, Kidon Valley; this is where our source of life is. So if you think that you can divide the city, in fact you are cutting part of our heart from our body.

BELL: But that's what the Obama administration is pressuring Israel to do � negotiate a two state solution with East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital. King and others from the Israeli right wing have said Israel needs to stand up to Barack Obama.

KING: He knows that the United States needs Israel strong for the sake of the United States.

BELL: Not the other way around.

KING: Do you know about one � one country that U.S. can depend more than Israel in the Middle East?

BELL: There isn't one, King suggests. On the Israeli left, there are predictions of the Prime Minister's coming political demise. They say Benjamin Netanyahu can't please both Washington and the Israeli right wing when it comes to East Jerusalem. For The World, I'm Matthew Bell.