Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Fearing that many Arab residents of eastern Jerusalem might prefer Israeli citizenship to that of a looming Palestinian state, Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction of the PLO has ordered all Israeli Arabs living in the city to renounce their Israeli citizenship by the end of September or be considered traitors to the Palestinian cause.
The fate of eastern Jerusalem has been the primary focus of the dispute between Israel and the PA since the Camp David summit failed to produce an agreement in July.
Prompted by economic and social uncertainties in a future Palestinian state, a small but growing number of Arab residents of eastern Jerusalem are applying for full Israeli citizenship.
In a statement entitled the "Al-Aqsa Call," Fatah's Jerusalem district branch warned that, "Anyone who seeks to acquire Israeli citizenship is a traitor to Jerusalem, its holiness, the homeland, the people, and diverging from national and religious obligations."
It accused Israeli authorities of scattering "middlemen and supporters" throughout Jerusalem to encourage Palestinians to apply for Israeli citizenship.
Of Jerusalem's 200,000 Arab residents, only about 10,000 are Israeli citizens. The remaining Arabs who live in eastern Jerusalem are permanent residents of Israel who enjoy the economic and social benefits of citizenship but are able to maintain their status in the Arab world by holding Jordanian passports. Theoretically, all are eligible for citizenship.
According to the Interior Ministry, there were 200 applicants for citizenship from eastern Jerusalem residents in 1998. That number rose by almost 50 per cent in 1999 to 273.
Although the ministry was unable to confirm statistics for the year 2000, the Jerusalem Post reported recently that 183 applications had been received in the first half of this year alone. During the past seven years of Israeli-PA negotiations, the number of Arab Jerusalemites has increased five-fold, from 2,000 to 10,000, it said.
Two weeks ago, the Arafat-appointed Islamic cleric at the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, Sheikh Ikrimah Sabri, repeated an edict forbidding Jerusalem Arabs from obtaining Israeli citizenship.
"The holding of Israeli citizenship means recognition of and submission to Israeli laws and allegiance to their state, the Hebrew state," said Sabri, who holds the title of Mufti of Jerusalem.
He pledged that all the civil rights currently enjoyed by Jerusalem residents would continue under the PA, and there was, therefore, no "legitimate justification" and no "urgent necessity" to apply for Israeli citizenship.
In response, Jerusalem's Israeli Mayor Ehud Olmert said the edict reflected "the growing concern of the Palestinian Authority of the desires of most of the Palestinians to remain under the sovereignty of Israel in Jerusalem.
"The Palestinian population is prepared to vote in the simplest, most direct way in favor of a united Jerusalem under the sole sovereignty of the State of Israel," Olmert said in response to queries.
"This is such a fundamental threat that the Palestinian Authority will use every possible pressure and threat to deter the Palestinian inhabitants from realizing their dream," he added.
Olmert said he favored giving Israeli citizenship to all the Palestinian inhabitants of Jerusalem - "the sooner the better."
But Prime Minister Ehud Barak has made no such blanket offer, instead having pledged to turn over some Arab neighborhoods on the outskirts of Jerusalem to full PA control.
At the Camp David summit, Barak also reportedly offered limited sovereignty over other parts of the city to Arafat.
Major-General Meir Dagan, former head of Barak's bureau on counter-terrorism, said in an interview this week that Barak would do better to offer citizenship to 100,000 Arabs in eastern Jerusalem than to agree to absorb 100,000 Palestinian refugees as Israeli citizens - as he has reportedly offered to do in the framework of a "family reunification" program.
Dagan questioned the wisdom of giving citizenship to refugees who were "by nature" opposed to Israel, while refusing to accept Arab Jerusalemites who of their "free choice prefer Israeli citizenship."
Furthermore, the Arabs in eastern Jerusalem were already settled in homes and jobs, he said.
Barak issued a statement on Wednesday saying that, unless the PA showed flexibility on the issue of Jerusalem, there would be no deal.
"Between the Americans, Egyptians, the Palestinians and ourselves, there is no meaningful discussion [on Jerusalem]," Barak said. "Only if we see a certain flexibility and open mind by the other side will there be a chance that a discussion will take place."
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who has become a key mediator in the negotiations, met Arafat on Wednesday for the sixth time since the talks collapsed.
After the meeting, Foreign Minister Amr Moussa told reporters there were "no concessions or ambiguities regarding the position on east Jerusalem as a capital for the Palestinian state."
With less than two weeks until the September 13 deadline for reaching an agreement, which is supposed to include a solution on Jerusalem, Barak and Arafat are both scheduled to meet separately with President Clinton next week in New York at the United Nations "millennium summit."