Press Release
Contact Information: Hussein Ibish
January 24, 2005 - 1:00am

Washington DC, Jan. 24 -- The American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP), voiced its extreme concern at the revelation that the Israeli cabinet decided in July 2004 to apply the Absentee Property Law to East Jerusalem. This decision in effect means that thousands of Palestinians who live in the West Bank will lose ownership of hundreds of acres of their property in East Jerusalem, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, with no hope of compensation or appeal. The law was originally passed in secret, the public was not made aware of it and it was not published in the official government gazette.

The Absentee Property Law of 1950 stipulates, among other things, that an absentee is someone who at the time of the War of Independence, "was in any part of the land of Israel that is outside the area of Israel" - that is, the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. According to the law, absentee assets are transferred to the Custodian of Absentee Property, with the absentee being ineligible for any compensation or appeal authority. When East Jerusalem was illegally annexed by Israel in 1980—which was declared of “no legal validity” by the United Nations Security Council—then-attorney general of Israel Meir Shamgar directed that the law not be applied to West Bank residents who have property in East Jerusalem. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin reissued that directive in 1993.

Commenting on the decision, the lead editorial in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz on January 21, 2005, stated that: “It is impossible not to deem the cabinet's decision theft, as well as an act of state stupidity of the highest order. Israel has already seized land and property from the Palestinians during the years of occupation, reducing their living space in order to establish settlements in Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.” In addition, such an action can only be interpreted by Palestinians and the world as Israel continuing to engage in unilateral actions relating to final-status issues, of which Jerusalem is one, rendering future negotiations meaningless.

“The issue of Jerusalem is too sensitive and important for the future of peace to be dealt with unilaterally,” said ATFP president Dr. Ziad Asali. “We call on the Israeli government to reverse this law in light of the recent promising political developments. ATFP encourages peaceful political and legal opposition to its implementation. We are confident that President Bush and his administration are committed to establishing a two-state solution and that the President will use his political capital to oppose measures that undermine it. The promise of peace of the moment needs to be fulfilled rather than frustrated.”


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017