Netanyahu Stirs the Pot in Jerusalem

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The city of Jerusalem may end up paying a heavy price for Benjamin Netanyahu's election campaign. That's what the hawkish Israeli prime minister is being accused of in the wake of his decision to close Orient House, the Palestinian Authority's unofficial headquarters in the city. Israeli opposition leaders charged on Friday that Netanyahu made the move knowing that likely Palestinian unrest in the heart of Jerusalem would work for him on the eve of Israel's election. "This may have created a very dangerous situation, but it's politically expedient for Netanyahu," says TIME Jerusalem bureau chief Lisa Beyer. "Denying a Palestinian political presence in Jerusalem will please his supporters, and any demonstrations in response could actually serve his political ends."

Netanyahu announced Thursday that Israel would close down Orient House, saying meetings there between a Palestinian Authority official and European diplomats violated Israel's sovereignty. But Netanyahu's crackdown presents a complex challenge for Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. "A wave of protests on this issue would give Arafat an opportunity to rally his own supporters, who've had to accept some backing down over the promise to declare a Palestinian state on May 4," says Beyer. On the other hand, the reason for Arafat's soft-pedaling the statehood issue has been a desire to avoid stampeding Israeli voters to the right. "Clearly, Arafat wants to do whatever he can to ensure Netanyahu's defeat at the polls," says Beyer.