JERUSALEM – After months of denying their party would seek to divide Jerusalem, officials in Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s Kadima administration last week announced they are drafting a plan to unilaterally withdraw from some of the city’s neighborhoods and making special arrangements for key holy sites.
“Those same neighborhoods will, in my assessment, be central to the makeup of the Palestinian capital … al-Quds,” said Schneller, calling Jerusalem by its Arabic name.
Schneller did not specify last week which sections of Jerusalem would be vacated, but another Kadima official told reporters the party’s plan calls for withdrawing from much of the eastern section of Jerusalem. Schneller said Jerusalem’s Old City, its holy sites and adjacent neighborhoods would become a “special region with special understandings” but remain under Israeli sovereignty. He did not specify whether that meant placing key holy sites under third-party custodianship.
Although Kadima officials had consistently denied they were planning to evacuate any part of Jerusalem, just days before the March parliamentary elections, Schneller revealed that a Kadima-left government would divide Jerusalem and allow a Palestinian state to be established in parts of Israel’s “eternal capital.”
The debate was not widely reported by the media.
“The Old City, Mount Scopus, the Mount of Olives, the City of David, Sheikh Jarra will remain in our hands, but [regarding] Kafr Akeb, Abu-Ram, Shuafat, Hizma, Abu-Zaim, Abu-Tur, Abu Dis, in the future, when the Palestinian state is established, they will become its capital,” Schneller said at the debate.
The neighborhoods Schneller listed are located on Jerusalem’s periphery, near the city̓s border with the West Bank.
Several Kadima officials and leaders associated with the party’s founder, former prime minister Ariel Sharon had previously made statements about dividing Jerusalem that immediately were denied by the party.
In December, Sharon’s senior campaign pollster, Kalman Gayer, said in an interview with Newsweek that the prime minister would give up parts of Jerusalem in a peace agreement.
Immediately following the publication of Gayer’s remarks, Sharon appeared on state-run Israeli television and denied that his vision for a Palestinian state included Jerusalem.
Olmert, who served as mayor of Jerusalem from 1993-2003, said in a June 2004 interview with the Jerusalem Post that Israel was contemplating turning parts of Jerusalem over to Palestinian control.
“Jerusalem is dear to me, but one must not lose sight of proportions over peripheral areas we do not need,” said Olmert, who was then deputy prime minister. He claimed ceding control of eastern Jerusalem neighborhoods to the Palestinians is “needed to maintain a Jewish majority in the Holy City.”
Government officials immediately denied that Olmert’s statements implied a Jerusalem withdrawal. Kadima’s clims that the government indends to withdraw from only peripheral sections of Jerusalem worry many here. Previous Israeli governments had denied withdrawal plans only to carry them out later, followed by announcements of more withdrawals from areas they had pledged not to vacate.
Olmert was the first Sharon deputy to go public with Israel’s plan to evacuate its Jewish communities from the Gaza Strip and four small West Bank communities. That plan was at first denied but later announced by Sharon. Israel withdrew from Gaza and the West Bank towns this past August, claiming there would be no further West Bank withdrawals.
Following the Gaza withdrawal, Olmert made statements about withdrawing from large sections of the West Bank. His statements immediately were denied by Sharon.
Olmert in February announced his administration will seek to “change Israel’s borders” by withdrawing from the vast majority of the West Bank.
Israel’s left-wing Labor and Meretz parties have in the past discussed dividing Jerusalem. Prime Minister Ehud Barak in 2000 offered the Palestinians a state in the West Bank, Gaza and eastern sections of Jerusalem, an offer rejected by Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat, who instead launched a new intifada in September of that year.