PARIS — Palestinian lobby groups that contest Israel’s authority over East Jerusalem have found they might be helped via an unexpected route: a French court.
The court decided to take up the case against French companies contracted by Israel to build a tram line that runs deep into East Jerusalem from West Jerusalem.
A Franco-Palestinian human-rights association challenged the companies’ participation, arguing that the line is designed to consolidate Israeli control over Arab districts seized after the Six-Day War in 1967. Most Israelis regard East Jerusalem as part of Israel’s undivided capital.
The group, Association France-Palestine Solidarité, filed the complaint against Alstom SA and Veolia Environnement SA two years ago, arguing that the 8.3-mile project violates international law because East Jerusalem isn’t sovereign Israeli territory. About half of the line is already built.
Veolia and Alstom quickly responded to the complaint by saying that the Nanterre court had no jurisdiction over the case and that the association’s claims were groundless.
An official of the tribunal of Nanterre near Paris said the court ruled late Wednesday that it does have jurisdiction in the case. The tribunal, however, rejected on technical grounds a request by the Palestine Liberation Organization to be a co-plaintiff, the court official said. PLO representatives didn’t return calls seeking comment.
Now the court will start looking into the substance of the complaint unless Alstom and Veolia exercise their right to appeal within one month. The companies both said they had been notified of the ruling, and an Alstom spokesman added the company will take time to study the ruling before deciding whether to appeal.
“The tribunal has backed our arguments; it’s a positive step,” said the association’s secretary-general, Sylviane de Wangen.
Alstom and Veolia — along with Israeli partners — are part of a consortium that first won the Jerusalem tramway contract in 2002. Alstom is providing cars and laying the track, while Veolia is due to operate the system for 30 years. The French and Israeli partners first struggled to secure financing for the $1 billion tram route, which straddles the old East-West boundary known as the “Green Line.”
Write to David Gauthier-Villars at David.Gauthier-Villars [at] wsj.com