Interior Minister Eli Yishai confirmed Monday night that an agreement has been reached that may prevent the expulsion of Jews from the Jewish-owned Beit Yehonatan building in eastern Jerusalem. The multi-story residence is located in an Arab area formerly populated by Jews who owned the properties but were forced out under the British Mandate.
Yishai, who also is chairman of the Shas party, said that residents of the building agreed to take down the top two floors, which were built without a permit. The Attorney-General has chided Jerusalem for not carrying out orders to expel the residents, and Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat countered last week with a threat to also tear down 200 illegal Arab buildings.
He warned that the result would be violence among Arabs in eastern Jerusalem, where riots have broken out increasingly during the past year over the presence of Jews.
Yishai’s announcement came several hours after the police, fearing a full-fledged Intifada if Arab buildings are razed, agreed to a municipality decision to postpone plans to serve eviction notices to residents of Beit Yehonatan. The building is named for Jonathan (Yehonatan) Pollard, serving a life sentence in an American prison for passing on classified Pentagon information to Israel.
Yishai's initiative faces several obstacles due to other questions concerning zoning and building codes.