Middle East

US proposes Abu Dis as future Palestinian capital, says former Hamas chief

Hamas’s former chief in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, said during a meeting in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday that the movement had received information of a US plan to offer Palestinian leaders a state with its capital in Abu Dis, a Palestinian village near East Jerusalem.

In a statement to local media, Haniyeh said the US administration had proposed to the Palestinian Authority (PA) that Abu Dis become the future Palestinian capital and become connected to the Al-Aqsa compound with a bridge.

The plan also proposed dividing the West Bank into three sections and creating an autonomous region in the Gaza Strip.

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Abu Dis: The Palestinian 'capital' Saudi Arabia wants to force on Abbas

Abu Dis, a small rural village overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem to the southwest and the Jordan Valley to the east, had been named by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as the future Palestinian state, as reported in the New York Times on 3 December.

"The plan involves building a bridge linking Abu Dis to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound [in East Jerusalem] with the ostensible aim of ensuring [Palestinians] access to the mosque," Haniyeh said during a meeting with Palestinian tribal leaders.

"There is also a talk of dividing the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound into three separate parts" and creating a “political entity in the Gaza Strip endowed with certain privileges”.

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A discussion about a Palestinian capital was flung into the spotlight after US President Donald Trump announced on 6 December that the US would recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Commenting on Trump's move, Haniyeh said: “The recent US decision on Jerusalem is part of ongoing efforts to terminate the Palestinian cause within the context of a so-called ‘deal of the century."

The move "has implications for the reconfiguration of the entire region and the [Arab and Muslim] nation… which will come at the expense of Jerusalem and Palestinian rights," added Haniyeh at a meeting in Gaza City with Palestinian tribal leaders.

Jerusalem remains at the heart of the Middle East conflict, with Palestinians hoping that East Jerusalem – occupied by Israel since 1967 – might eventually serve as the capital of an independent Palestinian state.

Why Abu Dis?

Trump's decision shook the Palestinian Authority: it hoped that if Washington was ever to make such a declaration then it would also regard East Jerusalem as the future capital for a Palestinian state, especially after years of US-sponsored talks with the Israelis.

But the suggestion that the future Palestinian capital could instead be Abu Dis flies in the face of the Oslo Accords of 1993 that foresaw East Jerusalem as the eventual capital of a future state.

#Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh says #Trump administration proposed the fragmented East Jerusalem suburb Abu Dis, rather than East #Jerusalem, as #Palestine capital with a bridge to #Aqsa in addition to an autonomous Gaza & splitting #WestBank into 3 areas https://t.co/zpjwbWL5fM

— SaadAbedine (@SaadAbedine) December 26, 2017

Abu Dis has been regarded as a potential home for a Palestinian government for two reasons.

The first is geographical. Abu Dis is the closest point to the Old City, which houses some of Islam's holiest sites including the al-Aqsa mosque, managed and controlled by the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, a religious trust.

For this reason it was planned as the site of the Palestinian Legislative Council, which the PA started to build in Abu Dis in 1995. Founded in the wake of the Oslo Accords, the council was intended to draft Palestinian laws and regulations as well as administer PA institutions.

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