Under the pretext that the Orient House, the PLO headquarters in East Jerusalem, was involved in “inciting violence” among the Palestinian population, an order signed by Public Security Minister Uzi Landau was issued to occupy and close this vital and internationally recognized Palestinian institution despite its well-respected role in the peace process and steady contact with Israeli politicians and organizations. The order was also extended to other social and economic East Jerusalem institutions.
As the place where the 1991 Madrid peace initiative had been launched and as a headquarter for peace talks with Israeli counterparts on numerous occasions, Orient House has consequently taken on many responsibilities and functions, all of them related to the efforts of achieving a peaceful solution based on the belief that Israel would act as an honest and fair partner in peace negotiations. Within this context and from the beginning of the peace process, Orient House was strongly and successfully involved in second track negotiations solving crucial issues towards comprehensive peace. Different governments, mainly European governments that acted as host countries, sponsored second track negotiations.
Among the Israeli organizations and individuals that were and are engaged in continuous cooperation with the Orient House and have a shared commitment for a peaceful coexistence are the Economic Cooperation Foundation, Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, IPCRI, International Center for Peace in the Middle East and other Israeli peace movements. Especially Yossi Beilin, Ronni Milo, MK Chaim Ramon, current Justice Minister Meir Shatrit, Gideon Azra and several MKs of different parties from the entire Israeli political spectrum participated in second track negotiations. The director of Peres Center, Ron Pundak, has maintained throughout many years a strong relation with the Orient House.
In August 2000 current Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres attended a workshop hosted by the Washington Institute for Peace where he engaged in intensive dialogue with Faisal Husseini on the state of the Oslo peace process. Even two weeks before his unexpected death on May 31st 2001, the late Faisal Husseini was joining a meeting at Harvard University to explore all options for a solution to the current Palestinian uprising and a possible reopening of peace talks with the Israeli government. Ze’ev Schiff, Ami Ayalon, Oded Iran also attended this meeting. A Palestinian delegation from the Orient House has just recently held second track negotiations with MKs from the Israeli Labor Party and other Israeli intellectuals in Italy discussing the status of Jerusalem as a continuous effort sponsored by the Italian Center for Peace in the Middle East.
Furthermore, the late Faisal Husseini played a crucial role in the multilateral talks of the five working groups that were initiated after the Madrid Conference by using the Orient House as the seat of the multilateral process.
The Jerusalem Task Force (JTF), an official body of the Palestinian Negotiations Affairs Department/PLO headed by Mr. Mahmoud Abbas, has diligently elaborated a high number of confidential and valuable information and maps concerning developmental strategic prospects for East Jerusalem to assist Palestinian negotiators. Israeli police under the pretext of “security” has confiscated all the documents, files and information that has been compiled and created by the JTF in its office spaces inside the Orient House. This Israeli action illustrates the total disrespect of the required and internationally supported integrity of the Orient House and the Palestinian leadership as a partner to the peace negotiations.
Due to its location in East Jerusalem, Orient House became increasingly important in establishing organizations and initiating several projects working on the crucial issue of preserving Palestinian presence, culture and necessary infrastructure in Arab East Jerusalem. To overcome the structural discrimination implemented by Israeli policies in terms of services offered to Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the Orient House has always functioned as an indispensable social welfare body for Palestinian citizens in need of urgent help.
It is worthwhile mentioning that on the eve of the Madrid peace process in 1991, an understanding was reached with the Israeli Government under Yitzhak Shamir with the guarantee from the US to protect the integrity of the Orient House. A letter sent by then US President George Bush sen. stressing that the Madrid peace process “could not have been initiated without the personal leadership of Faisal Husseini” bolstered this understanding. Additionally, on the condition to enter into the Oslo peace process in 1993, Shimon Peres sent a letter to late Norwegian Foreign Minister Holst confirming that Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem have a right to maintain their functions and responsibilities
and that the Israeli government encourages the development of Palestinian institutions.
The Orient House calls upon the US and the EU as well as the international community in general and especially Israeli institutions, organizations and individuals that have supported and cooperated with the Orient House in the above mentioned efforts to bring about peace between the Palestinian people and Israel to uphold and comply with their commitment and use all means to force the Israeli government to immediately reopen the Orient House and all closed institutions aimed for real coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians. The Orient House urges the international community to raise awareness about the blatant and discriminatory violations committed by the current Israeli Government against the Palestinian civilian population. If the international community does not intervene at this stage, Israeli violations of Palestinian rights, such as settlement construction, confiscation of land and collective punishment, will continue with a higher intensity resulting in unprecedented deterioration of the situation in the region.