Opening doors to the past and the future: Palestinians suspect Israeli motives in allowing the Arab Studies Centre to reopen in east Jerusalem, writes Sarah Helm

YITZHAK RABIN had forgotten to give back the keys, but nobody was complaining. The grand doors of the Orient Hotel, owned by the Husseini family of east Jerusalem, and home to the Arab Studies Centre, were opened with blowtorches as the Israeli authorities looked on.

Mr Rabin had also forgotten to clean up. But again nobody was complaining - yet. Out in the sunlight, under the imposing arabesque facade, rows of warped volumes - The Peace Protest and Intercommunal Strife, Occupied Arab Land, Letter on Steadfastness - were being carefully dusted off and checked against a catalogue.

Arab newspapers, stacked high and encrusted with grime, were being sifted. 'Speakers call for a Palestinian state as five martyrs are buried', said the headline in an-Nahar of 30 July 1988.

On 31 July 1988, Mr Rabin's soldiers had moved in and closed the Centre, stopping the clock in the midst of the intifada.

'It may only be four years but it seems like a long time ago,' said Ishaq Budeiri, secretary-general of the Centre. 'Personally my impression on entering was how much has changed. We hope we are now entering a new era,' he said, passing a 1987 map of Jewish settlements, which seemed curiously bare, and a poster of Akram Haniyeh, a Palestinian deportee in 1988 who is now co-ordinating the peace strategy of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in Tunis.

The Arab Study Centre was founded by Faisal al-Husseini in 1980 as a research body for Palestinians. In the mid-80s it was suspected by Israel of housing a 'terrorist cell'. Mr Husseini and other Palestinian leaders ran their 'Iron Fist Committee Against the Israelis' from the Centre. It was the 'iron fist' policy of Mr Rabin, then Defence Minister, which the Committee opposed.

Also on the night of 31 July, Mr Husseini was arrested on the orders of Mr Rabin. The building was surrounded by soldiers who searched for subversive material.

Perhaps old land deeds of the British Mandate might have given Israelis pause for thought. But there was one item specifically which clearly sparked Mr Rabin's interest - for he kept it: the original draft of the Palestinian 'Declaration of Independence'. The draft was drawn up in the Centre, several months before the PLO made its public declaration of independence in November 1988.

'We will be asking for that back, along with other missing files. And we will be asking for compensation,' said Mr Budeiri, who puts the damage to the building and its computers at about dollars 500,000 ( pounds 262,000).

Since the closure, the order has been renewed each year, until this week. 'They didn't tell us we could re-open it - they just didn't tell us we couldn't' Perhaps Mr Rabin, newly elected Prime Minister and proponent of peace, is just demonstrating his new approach. Or perhaps his intentions are more complex.

The Palestinian peace delegation, with Mr Husseini now its de facto leader, is in desperate need of an office. It is under-resourced and is running one of the most complex negotiations in modern history from Mr Husseini's dining-room. But the PLO in Tunis has said no to a Jerusalem office, wishing to block any chance that local Palestinian leaders develop an authority to counter its own.

Mr Rabin, meanwhile, who now wants to be friends with Mr Husseini, sees advantages in building up the authority of the local leadership as a counter to Tunis. By giving them back the Orient Hotel building, local Palestinians suspect, Mr Rabin may be nudging their leaders to take on new status by making the building the official seat of the peace delegation.

If this happens - and Mr Husseini has yet to decide - the building could in future become the official seat of the Palestinian interim autonomous authority. And - who knows - one day it could be the official seat of the Palestinian state government.

BEIRUT - Russia and the United States have proposed that Middle East peace talks resume on 24 August in Washington, a Russian Foreign Ministry official said yesterday. Invitations have been sent to Arab nations, Israel and the PLO, AFP reports.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea