by Ilanit Chernick
The US will do everything in its power to secure the release of Issam Akel, a 53-year-old Arab resident of Jerusalem who holds both American citizenship and an Israeli identity card, who has been held by the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah for the past two months for “selling” property to Jews.
New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind told TPS on Thursday that although is a Democrat, he has a relationship with President Donald Trump and will bring up the matter with him when he visits the White House next week for the Jewish holiday of Chanukah.
He added that he had also met with U.S. Ambassador David Friedman about the matter.
In the first official condemnation by an American official, Friedman tweeted on Wednesday that “the Pal[estinian] Authority has been holding U.S. citizen Isaam Akel in prison for 2 months.
“His suspected ‘crime’? Selling land to a Jew. Akel’s incarceration is antithetical to the values of the US & to all who advocate the cause of peaceful coexistence. We demand his immediate release,” he wrote.
According to Hikind, Friedman said that State Secretary Mike Pompeo “is on board” to help with getting Akel released, and that the U.S. “Administration is committed.”
“Any American citizen in the world, America stands by that person and will do whatever is necessary to protect that individual,” he said.
Hikind said Akel’s wife had told him that her husband has been tortured and physically assaulted during his incarceration.
“The meeting was extremely emotional,” he told TPS. “The pain she was going through was unbelievable, not having her husband now for two months, she shared pictures of her two young daughters and the fact that they don’t have their father, and she asked me to help.
“I want my husband back, and my children want their father back,” she told Hikind.
Akel’s wife meets with him every Saturday, Hikind said, “and I asked her specifically if he’d been physically assaulted and she used the word tortured.”
Hikind said the question of “whether he ‘sold’ property to Jews is not even the issue to me, I don’t know if he did, but if that is his ‘crime,’ then in America we don’t understand that,” he said, adding that in America, not being able to sell property to someone based on a racial or religious basis, “goes against fundamental democratic principles. It’s ridiculous, it’s outrageous! No crime was committed.”
He made it clear that this is an issue “that doesn’t play well for the Palestinian Authority once it gets attention, because the idea that they arrested somebody just because he sold property to a Jew could intercept with the peace process, but even more so the concept that you can’t sell land to a Jew goes beyond that, [especially] if you’re going to have peace one day, and you’re going to have good relations one day – and a Jew can live with a Palestinian and a Palestinian can live with a Jew.
“It’s going to have major repercussions,” he added, saying that it shouldn’t come as a surprise if Trump says something about this publicly in a week or so.
Asked about the future of the peace process and President Trump’s so-called “deal of the century,” Hikind speculated that both sides will be unhappy with the peace deal to be offered.
“However, I would advise Israel to say ‘yes,’” he said. “It’s not going to be a right or left-wing deal. There’s always negotiations, [but] there’s no way the Palestinians will accept it, if they didn’t accept Ehud Barak’s deal or Ehud Olmert’s deal.”
When it comes to repercussions for the Palestinian Authority, he quipped that it couldn’t get any worse than it is now; “It’s already a mess.”
Hikind said that although he thinks the deal won’t go anywhere, “it won’t be the same as deals that have been offered before.
“The Palestinians have already said they won’t accept the deal even though they don’t know what it is,” he said questioning whether or not there was a real partner for Israel to discuss a two-state solution or peace.