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JERUSALEM – Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s Kadima Party is drafting a plan to divide Jerusalem by unilaterally withdrawing from some of the city’s neighborhoods and making special arrangements for key holy sites, a top party official announced in an interview yesterday.
“We will not divide Jerusalem, we will share it,” Kadima lawmaker Otniel Schneller told the Associated Press.
Most Jerusalem neighborhoods with large Arab populations would be given to the Palestinians, he said.
“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 yesterday which sections of Jerusalem would be vacated, but another Kadima official told the AP the party’s plan calls for withdrawing from much of the eastern sections of Jerusalem. Schneller previously listed some neighborhoods slated for evacuation.
He 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.
Kadima officials had for months denied they were planning to evacuate any part of Jerusalem. But as WND first reported, just days before March parliamentary elections here, Kadima, represented at an official debate by Schneller, revealed it would divide Jerusalem and allow a Palestinian state to be established in parts of Israel’s “eternal capital.”
“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,” said Schneller at the small debate covered by WND.
Schneller’s remarks at the time were not widely reported by the media.
The neighborhoods Schneller listed are located on Jerusalem’s periphery, near the city’s border with the West Bank.
Senior Likud member Yuval Stenitz blasted Kadima, saying party candidates who expressed readiness to negotiate handing over eastern Jerusalem to the Palestinians are opening up a “Pandora’s Box” that would lead to “Hamas taking over the Temple Mount.”
Several Kadima officials and leaders associated with the party’s founder, Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, 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 the Israeli 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 his vision for a Palestinian state includes Jerusalem.
Olmert, who served as mayor of Jerusalem from 1993-2003, said in a June 2004 interview with the Jerusalem Post that 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,” said Olmert, who served as deputy prime minister at the time. 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 Olmert’s statements implied a Jerusalem withdrawal.
Israel’s left-wing Labor and Meretz parties have in the past discussed dividing Jerusalem. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak in 2000 offered the Palestinians a state in Judea and Samaria, Gaza and eastern sections of Jerusalem. Barak’s proposal was rejected by the late Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat.
Jerusalem first was 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.