M.J. Rosenberg
Israel Policy Forum (Opinion)
October 19, 2007 - 4:34pm

Here is the only thing you need to know about Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s plan to divide Jerusalem: there is no such plan. There never was one and it is safe to say that there will never be one.

Nor is there a plan by any other Israeli leader to divide Jerusalem. Additionally, neither Mahmoud Abbas nor the Palestinian Authority he heads favors the division of Jerusalem.

From Olmert to Ramon to Beilin to Abbas and Fayyad, there is not a single proposal to divide the city.

So what is all the yelling about?

Right-wing American Jews are already taking out ads and organizing to stop the division of Jerusalem. Right-wing Israelis are saying that once Jerusalem is divided, Jews will have no access to the Western Wall and that snipers will be firing at Jews on Jaffa Road from the Old City walls.

All this despite the fact that no one is proposing dividing Jerusalem.

What is being discussed is the formulation President Bill Clinton devised in 2001.

“First, Jerusalem should be an open and undivided city, with assured freedom of access and worship for all. It should encompass the internationally recognized capitals of two states, Israel and Palestine.

“Second, what is Arab should be Palestinian, for why would Israel want to govern in perpetuity the lives of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians?

“Third, what is Jewish should be Israeli. That would give rise to a Jewish Jerusalem, larger and more vibrant than any in history.

“Fourth, what is holy to both requires a special care to meet the needs of all. No peace agreement will last if not premised on mutual respect for the religious beliefs and holy shrines of Jews, Muslims and Christians.”

The Clinton language is the full-blown version of the ideas Israelis and Palestinians have been discussing. Not only does it not call for Jerusalem’s division, it specifically rules it out.

Why the hysteria? Simple, it’s tactical.

The howling about Jerusalem is not really about Jerusalem at all. It is about the West Bank.  It is about the settlements.

The far right understands that the Israeli public is not going to get worked up over the possible “abandonment” of the West Bank and its Jewish settlements. On the contrary, polling shows that in exchange for full peace, Israelis would relinquish the territory and the settlements in a Tel-Aviv minute.

That is why the far right has decided to focus on Jerusalem, to which mainstream Israelis are as legitimately attached as they are relatively indifferent to “Judea and Samaria.”

Those favoring negotiations and compromise should stop using the term “dividing” Jerusalem because that is not on the table at all. The issue is “sharing” Jerusalem. Are Israelis and Palestinians willing to share the city? Polls show that a majority in each camp is.

Those majorities do not favor erecting physical walls to divide Jerusalem but rather setting up a legal framework which preserves physical unity of the city while sharing sovereignty.

That wouldn’t divide Jerusalem; it would re-establish its unity.

The last time Jerusalem was truly undivided was before the Jordanians took over East Jerusalem and erected a wall separating it from West Jerusalem in 1948.  The Israelis took a giant step toward unifying the city when, following its Six-Day War victory in 1967, it tore down the walls and allowed Arabs and Jews to move freely in one city.

Unfortunately, every year since 1967, Jerusalem has grown more and more divided. The Israelis have even extended the security wall into Jerusalem, cutting some neighborhoods off from each other.

Israeli Jews rarely set foot in the parts of Jerusalem which, under the Clinton formulation, would come under the Palestinian flag. The thing that keeps Israelis out of East Jerusalem and Arabs out of West Jerusalem is fear. Arabs are uncomfortable when in West Jerusalem and Israelis are uncomfortable when in East Jerusalem. Jerusalem today is divided in two and anyone who knows the city (not the propagandists of the far right) understands that.

There is only one way to unify the city. That is by reaching an agreement that will end the conflict.

And no resolution can be reached without dealing with the issue of Jerusalem.

That is what the screaming is about. The Israeli far right and its backers in this country do not want an end to the conflict on any terms -- other than perhaps “transfer” or “ethnic cleansing.” They seize on the emotional issue of Jerusalem to build a consensus against peace. Right now their goal is to thwart Secretary Rice’s peace conference. Should the conference go ahead, their goal will be to ensure its failure. Should it succeed, they will fight to ensure that Israel does not implement any commitments it may have made (“concessions,” as the right likes to call them).

For these people, Jerusalem is just a pretext. They know that no Israeli government will ever allow the city to be divided or the Western Wall to become off-limits to Jews.

But they will keep yelling, taking out ads, and misleading Members of Congress.

To his credit, Prime Minister Olmert appears undaunted. He even told an audience of right-wingers this week that he saw no reason why totally Arab neighborhoods – including a Palestinian refugee camp – need to be under Israeli rule.

He also says that Israel is finally facing a Palestinian leadership it can do business with, a Palestinian leadership that desperately wants peace with Israel. (Secretary Rice reportedly told him that without a deal with Abbas now, Israel will soon be facing a Hamas controlled West Bank, one that will have itself been transformed into a kind of Al Qaeda, which will delight the right because then they can scream “no partner” again).

Forgive Olmert if he does not believe that allowing Palestinian flags to fly over Palestinian neighborhoods is too steep a price to avoid that. But understand one thing. This former Likud Mayor of Jerusalem has no intention of dividing his city.

The word is “sharing” not “dividing.”


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