JERUSALEM – Just days after a principle adviser to Ariel Sharon told the media the Israeli prime minister will divide Jerusalem if he wins in upcoming elections, a senior minister and close Sharon ally today refused to answer whether she would support relinquishing parts of the holy city to the Palestinians.
The statements follow the lauding by several senior dovish Israeli lawmakers and Palestinian leaders of Kadima, Sharon’s newly formed political party, as Israel’s “best chance” at creating a Palestinian state in Gaza, Judea and Samaria and the eastern sections of Jerusalem.
“My parents’ friends demand that I promise to say there won’t be a Palestinian state and that I promise to fight and prevent its establishment, but I’m not saying it,” said Justice Minister Tzipi Livni at a community gathering earlier today.
Livni then refused to respond to a question posed to her by a reporter for Israel’s Haaretz daily about whether she would support splitting Jerusalem to create a Palestinian state.
Livni was one of the first politicians to join Sharon’s Kadima party after the Israeli leader announced he is leaving the ruling Likud Party he helped found to start his own “centrist” party, prompting new elections that will be held in March.
Since Sharon’s move, multiple Kadima members have stated the new party is looking to change Israel’s borders.
Top Kadima adviser Eli Landau recently said Sharon’s “decision [to form a new party] stems from his desire to bring the state of Israel to permanent borders during his term of office … He knows that this step will be a dramatic one.”
Sharon aide Eyal Arad told the British daily The Guardian the Palestinians will soon be given independence.
According to a Newsweek report, Sharon’s senior campaign pollster Kalman Gayer last week said the Israeli prime minister aims to divide Jerusalem.
The Newsweek article stated: “In theory, Gayer says, Sharon would accept a Palestinian state in Gaza and 90 percent of the West Bank, and a compromise on Jerusalem, in exchange for peace … Sharon wants to ‘lay the contours of an agreement with the Palestinians,’ according to Gayer, by creating a Palestinian state in half the West Bank and implementing confidence-building measures.”
Immediately following the publication of Gayer’s remarks, Sharon appeared on state-run Israeli television and denied his vision for a Palestinian state includes Jerusalem.
“The remarks attributed to Kalman Gayer absolutely contradict my positions and my views,” said Sharon. “If those remarks were indeed made, they were made by Kalman Gayer alone and they are complete nonsense. United Jerusalem will remain Israel’s capital forever.”
But Sharon has previously denied rumors of withdrawals he later carried out. When he first ran for prime minister in 2000, Sharon’s campaign platform stated that if elected, there would be no unilateral Israeli withdrawals from any territories and no negotiations with the Palestinian Authority unless it dismantled all terror groups. Sharon last summer unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip and four northern Samaria towns, and has been hinting at further disengagements.
A source close to Sharon told WND, “The way Sharon works is that before announcing specific initiatives, he often has senior members of his government float them publicly as a trial balloon, to gage domestic and international public opinion.”
Sharon’s pollster is not the first official to hint at Israeli withdrawals from Jerusalem. In June 2004, Deputy Prime Minister and Sharon ally Ehud Olmert said Israel is 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,” Olmert said in an interview with the Jerusalem Post.
Olmert claimed ceding control of six eastern Jerusalem neighborhoods to the Palestinians is “needed to maintain a Jewish majority in the Holy City.”
He named Isawiya – adjacent to the Jerusalem’s French Hill neighborhood – the nearby Shuafat refugee camp, Anata, the northern village of Kfar Akab, and Sur Bahir and Umm Tuba, on the city’s southeastern rim.
Olmert was also the first to go public with Sharon’s Gaza withdrawal plan, which the Israeli prime minister at first denied.
After he made the statements regarding Jerusalem, Sharon’s bureau chief Dov Weisglass joked that “Olmert is in good shape, he jogs. He is always ahead of us.”
The prospect of a Palestinian state in parts of Jerusalem worries many. The last time Arabs had control over the city, Jews were expelled and holy sites were burned.
Jerusalem was first divided into eastern and western sections when Jordan invaded and occupied Jerusalem and the Old City in 1947, expelling all Jewish inhabitants. Israel built its capital in the western part of the city, while the eastern quarters remained under Jordanian control until Israel captured it, along with the Old City, in 1967 after Jordan’s King Hussein ignored Israeli pleas for his country to stay out of the Six Day War.
During the 19 years of Arab sovereignty, the ancient Jewish Quarter of the Old City was ravaged, 58 synagogues – some centuries old – were destroyed and slum dwellings were built abutting the Western Wall. Jews were not allowed to visit their holy places and Israeli Christians were subjected to many restrictions, with only limited numbers allowed to visit the Old City and Bethlehem at Christmas and Easter.