ISRAEL moved against a leading Palestinian moderate yesterday, closing down the offices of the university he heads in East Jerusalem, and labelling him "the representative of a terrorist organisation".
The targeting of Sari Nusseibeh, an Oxford-educated philosopher who is the PLOís commissioner for Jerusalem affairs, comes just weeks after he spearheaded a petition of academics calling for a halt to Palestinian suicide bombings inside Israel.
Mr Nusseibeh has also urged Palestinians to drop their insistence on a return of refugees to places inside Israel, and focus exclusively on building a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Mr Nusseibeh recently headed an effort to teach schoolchildren about non-violent protest.
The step, ordered by the police minister, Uzi Landau, of Prime Minister Ariel Sharonís Likud party, overshadowed efforts by Shimon Peres, the foreign minister, to begin a dialogue with ministers in the Palestinian Authority. Mr Peres was given leeway by Mr Sharon to hold talks with the finance minister, Salam Fayad, and the interior minister, Abdul-Razak Yihya, provided the discussions do not extend to peace talks, something the prime minister is intent on delaying at least until after Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, is no longer on the scene.
Israeli troops are occupying West Bank cities and are holding close to a million Palestinians under curfew after two suicide bombings in Jerusalem killed 26 people. Palestinian sources said that an Islamic Jihad militant, Muannad Daraghmeh, 22, was killed by Israeli troops near Jenin, but the army said it had no knowledge of such an incident.
Gideon Ezra, the deputy interior minister, said the closure of the al-Quds University offices "shows that we have no intention of accepting activity by the Palestinian Authority in Jerusalem".
He said Mr Nusseibeh had been meeting on behalf of the Palestinian Authority with foreign delegations in the offices. According to the now defunct Oslo Accord, the authority is proscribed from operating in Jerusalem, which Israel claims as its undivided capital.
In practice the government of the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin allowed Mr Nusseibehís predecessor, Faisal Husseini, to hold diplomatic contacts there. Mr Sharonís government, however, last year closed down Orient House, the PLOís de facto headquarters in Jerusalem.
Mr Ezra said: "Nusseibeh holds the Jerusalem portfolio in the PLO, a terrorist organisation that he represents." He stressed that the main campus of al-Quds University is located in Abu Dis, an Arab suburb he called "a nest of terrorism".
Zehava Galon, a member of Knesset from the opposition Meretz, described the step as "scandalous".
"It seems that we want to reach a situation where we will have no one left to talk to and to turn everyone into our enemy," she said.
Meanwhile, a Palestinian opened fire after police tried to question him in East Jerusalem. A policeman was wounded, according to Israel Radio. A shootout ensued in which a passerby was killed and the gunmen fled. Police later arrested a suspect.
Earlier, Israelis had a changing of the guard for the most powerful post in the country after prime minister - that of army chief of staff.
However, there is expected to be no change in policy. General Moshe Yaíalon, a hawk whose virulently anti-Palestinian Authority positions have become state policy took over from General Shaul Mofaz, who has spearheaded the drive for the expulsion of Mr Arafat.
Gen Yaíalon was quoted as telling senior officers yesterday that Israel "is still in a battle for its existence". At a ceremony for Gen Mofazís departure, the children of fallen soldiers were dressed up in uniforms and presented him with gifts.
Gen Mofaz, for his part, awarded citations to veterans of the battle in Jenin refugee camp, where troops used Palestinian civilians as human shields and destroyed the homes of 3,000 people in fighting, which human rights groups said included Israeli violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Israel, which escaped a UN investigation through US intervention, said Palestinian fighters had booby-trapped much of the camp. It lost 23 soldiers in the battle.www.news.scotsman.com/international.cfm?id=743582002E-mail this article