By Khaled Abu Toameh November 22, 2018
The Palestinian Authority security forces are going after east Jerusalem residents suspected of selling properties to Israeli Jews, on “direct orders” from PA President Mahmoud Abbas, a Fatah spokesman revealed on Thursday.
An Israeli law passed in 1995 bans the PA from engaging in political, diplomatic, security or security-related activities within the area of Israel, including east Jerusalem. The PA, however, has repeatedly violated the law during the past two decades by holding political and security activities there.
Osama Qawassmeh, spokesman for Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction in the West Bank, confirmed that PA security forces had recently arrested an American-Palestinian man from east Jerusalem on suspicion of involvement in the sale of an Arab-owned house in the Old City of Jerusalem to Israeli Jews.
On October 18, The Jerusalem Post revealed that PA security forces had arrested the man, who was later identified as Isam Aqel.
Aqel’s family notified the US State Department about the arrest and expressed deep concern over his safety.
After Aqel’s story appeared in the Post, Israel arrested two senior PA officials on suspicion of involvement in the incarceration of the American-Palestinian citizen.
The two – Adnan Geith, who serves as the PA “governor” of Jerusalem, and Jihad Faqeeh, commander of the Jerusalem area in the PA’s General Intelligence Service – were released from custody several days later.
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Qawassmeh, the top Fatah official, admitted on Thursday that the PA security forces had arrested the American-Palestinian citizen on suspicion of involvement in a real estate transaction with Israeli Jews.
However, it was the first time that a senior Ramallah official had admitted that the crackdown on Palestinian suspects was being carried out on direct orders from Abbas.
Qawassmeh told the Al-Watan Voice news source that the American-Palestinian man was arrested a month ago. He described the man as one of the biggest real estate agents from east Jerusalem involved in selling property to Israeli Jews.
Sources in east Jerusalem claimed that the man had only acted as a “solicitor” between the owner of the house and the Israeli Jewish group which purchased it.
The Fatah official also revealed that Israel threatened to “invade” Ramallah and “destroy” the headquarters of the PA General Intelligence Service, where the American-Palestinian citizen was being held and interrogated.
Israel, he said, threatened to destroy “all the Palestinian Authority offices” in Ramallah if the man is not released. “In spite of the threats, the Palestinian Authority refused to release the suspect,” he said.
A senior Israeli security official confirmed to the Post that Israel had threatened to send the IDF to Ramallah to release the American-Palestinian citizen. The official refused to say whether the PA had agreed to release him.
Qawassmeh said that the PA security forces will continue to target Palestinians suspected of involvement in real estate transactions with Israeli Jews, especially in east Jerusalem.
“This is a very dangerous issue,” he added.
Palestinian law and religious decrees (fatwas) ban the sale of houses and land to Israeli Jews. Last month, following reports that some east Jerusalem residents had sold their homes to an Israeli Jewish organization, the mufti of Jerusalem reminded all Palestinians that such deals were tantamount to “high treason.” The PA government also formed a special commission of inquiry to investigate the sale of a house owned by the Joudeh family in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City to an Israeli Jewish group.