“How can we reach Jerusalem?” So asked Ahmad Qurei (Abu Alaa), former Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority (PA) and earlier (1993) the director of the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction (PECDAR).
In his capacity as director of PECDAR and using funds from a Japanese grant, Qurei acquired land for the new offices of the Economic Ministry from a charitable trust. The parcel was supposedly in the village of Abu Dis, certainly closer to Jerusalem than the city of Ramallah. “Abu Dis is a village that belongs to Jerusalem,” explained Qurei. But, Qurei had actually chosen a location mostly within the Jerusalem municipal boundary, with Abu Dis to the east.
In an interview for Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency (DAAR; see “Assembling Voices“), Qurei continued, “There is no Palestine without Jerusalem … I told [Yasser Arafat] that he was the only one that could create the necessary conditions. If he came closer to Jerusalem, he could create the conditions … his dream and hope was Jerusalem. If he could not reach Jerusalem, he would not have achieved anything.” The city of Ramallah, headquarters of the PA, is closer to Jerusalem, but not close enough.
So, Arafat’s strategy was to first move closer to Jerusalem. “The closer we come to Al Quds (Jerusalem) the closer we come to our national rights,” Qurei asserted.
Qurei hired an architect and began the construction project. Construction caught the attention of Israel’s then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. In a meeting with Arafat, Rabin wanted to know what the building was. Arafat answered that it was not for him. It was for Qurei. Qurei then claimed that the building was to be his own house, a building for himself, but it could be used for the government. Rabin insisted that the construction was not permitted. He said that it was a serious matter for Israel. Qurei also received pushback from the military and from a couple of Israeli organizations (Ateret Cohanim and Elad). Nonetheless, the ministry building was finished.
“Arafat’s dream, as President of the Palestinian National Authority, was to visit the new building, to stay for several hours,” said Qurei. For Arafat’s sake, the eastern room has a view of the Haram ash-Sharif and the Al Aksa Mosque through a wide window.
About the same time, Qurei was elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council – the PA’s parliament. Qurei asked the architect to add a hall for the parliament.
However, the parliament building is still incomplete and unusable because the PA does not have full autonomy in Abu Dis where the entry is.
Looking back, Qurei viewed the building as temporary. Jerusalem as it was before 1967 was going to be the capital of the Palestinian state. Nothing less would be acceptable.
Even so, the building in Abu Dis is closer to Jerusalem than Ramallah. Asked Qurei, “Isn’t that coming closer to Jerusalem?”
DAAR interviewed three Palestinians who objected to a center of governance that excludes Palestinians wherever they are. They voiced the spirit of the Palestinian Declaration of Independence: “The State of Palestine is the state of Palestinians wherever they may be.”
The Palestinian National Council (PNC), they explain, is the true parliament of the Palestinian nation. The PNC (an arm of the PLO – Palestine Liberation Organization) still meets outside of Israel so that all its members can attend.
On the other hand, the local Legislative Council for the West Bank and Gaza is not sovereign, so how can it decide where to have a capital?
Fajr Harb, activist, objected that “politically the location is problematic” and that it represents the end result of the Oslo Accords. The legislature of the PA does not articulate the common ground and collective fate of Palestinians. It could be regarded not as a parliament but more like a municipality’s council, said Harb.