JERUSALEM – After an unusually strong rebuke from the United States, some Israeli officials said Thursday it was unwise to have shut down offices at a university that is headed by a leading Palestinian moderate.
Israeli police on Tuesday raided the campus of Al Quds University on the edge of Jerusalem, searching and closing the office of the president, Sari Nusseibeh. Nusseibeh is also the top PLO official in Jerusalem.
Israeli Cabinet Minister Matan Vilnai said Thursday he was sure the Palestinians were conducting political activity out of Al Quds. Under interim peace accords, the Palestinians are banned from political activity in Jerusalem.
While Nusseibeh is the university president, he is also "one of the Palestinian leaders with whom it will apparently be possible to talk when the era of Arafat ends," Vilnai said. "And maybe it was not wise to raid his offices at the university."
Vilnai is minister for culture and sport, but he is also a member of the security Cabinet and is a retired major general.
Transport Minister Ephraim Sneh said the closure may have been legal, but it was "foolish and misguided from a political point of view."
Israeli Internal Security Minister Uzi Landau, who is in charge of the police, defended the raid, saying the university was "the long arm of the Palestinian Authority for the purpose of undermining Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem."
Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital, while the Palestinians want the traditionally Arab eastern part as their capital.
On Wednesday in Washington, the White House said it was troubled by the closure and said it was discussing the matter with the Israelis. It indicated it would press the government to reverse the decision.
"This action does not contribute to the fight against terror" nor promote the reform the United States wants to see in the Palestinian Authority, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said in a statement.
Nusseibeh said Wednesday he would appeal the closure. "I know the order is invalid; I don't think it will stand up in court," he said.
The police raid was conducted while Israeli troops maintained their three-week occupation of seven major West Bank towns and cities.
Overnight, Israeli troops in the West Bank arrested 10 Palestinians — including three suspected of involvement in planning suicide attacks, the army said.
Eight of the 10, arrested near the West Bank town of Nablus, were members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, an army spokesman said. Two other people were arrested in the nearby village of Talusa.
The Palestinians have demanded the occupation end, but Israel says its presence is open-ended and is necessary to prevent suicide attacks. Since the occupation began after attacks that killed 31 Israelis on June 18-20, there have been no suicide bombings inside Israel, and dozens of suspected militants have been arrested.
The Israeli daily Haaretz reported Thursday that the Israeli army planned to start reducing its presence in West Bank areas determined to be at low risk for staging attacks. The newspaper quoted a senior defense official as saying the army would leave some cities altogether and thin out its presence in others.
"There is no need to impose curfews arbitrarily," Vilnai told Israel radio. "On an ad-hoc basis we have to go over to blockades or roadblocks, rather than being inside the neighborhood."
However, he said, as long as there was a threat of attacks, "we have no choice but to use those methods."
Separately, Israel's new military chief of staff, Moshe Yaalon, was quoted by several Israeli news reports as saying he opposed exiling Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. His predecessor, Shaul Mofaz, had supported deporting Arafat from Palestinian territories.
"It would be a mistake on our part to deport him," Yaalon was quoted as saying in a closed conversation Wednesday with members of the Central Command.