Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (PBS.org)
JERUSALEM – The majority of Israelis oppose dividing Jerusalem in any agreement with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah organization, according to a recently released poll.
The survey, conducted by Tel Aviv University in conjunction with the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research, found 59 percent of the Israeli population is against handing to the Palestinians various Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem.
The poll additionally found 77 percent of Israelis lack confidence in the strength of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s government and its ability to negotiate an agreement with the PA. Among Israelis who voted for Olmert’s Kadima party, only 27 percent are confident in the prime minister’s ability to negotiate soundly, while only 20 percent of supporters of the leftist Labor party – his senior coalition partner – have faith in him.
The move follows a flurry of media reports that Olmert is contemplating handing over sections of Jerusalem to Abbas.
Earlier this week, the prime minister hinted he would be willing to divide Jerusalem, asking during a speech whether it was “really necessary” to retain certain Arab neighborhoods in Judaism’s capital, specifically mentioning Shoafat, a Jerusalem neighborhood.
“Was it necessary to also add the Shuafat refugee camp, Sawakra, Walaje and other villages and define them as part of Jerusalem? On that, I must confess, I am not convinced,” stated Olmert, speaking at a special Knesset session to mark the sixth anniversary of the assassination of former government minister Rehavam Ze’evi, who drew up the 1967 map.
Vice Premier Haim Ramon, a member of Olmert’s ruling Kadima party, last week reportedly mapped out a future partition of Jerusalem under a deal with the Palestinians, stating Israel may give up Jerusalem’s Shoafat and Qalandiya neighborhoods, among other communities.
Ramon wrote in a letter to Jerusalem City Councilman Nir Barkat, according to the Israeli news site YnetNews.com, that under his plan, “The Jewish neighborhoods (of Jerusalem) will be recognized as Israeli and under Israeli sovereignty. Accordingly, the Arab neighborhoods will be recognized as Palestinian.”
Jewish group to blame for Jerusalem division?
Some of the areas mentioned as slated for possible evacuation – hundreds of acres in Shoafat and Qalandiya – are owned by the Jewish National Fund, a nonprofit that purchases property using donor funds for the specific purpose of Jewish settlement.
The JNF over the years has allowed tens of thousands of Arabs to illegally squat on land it purchased for Jews, resulting in the current Arab majority in sections now slated for possible Israeli evacuation.
The JNF lands have been utilized for the illegal construction of dozens of Arab apartment buildings, a refugee camp and a U.N. school. The properties recently were blocked off from Jewish sections of Jerusalem and isolated to Arab neighborhoods by Israel’s security fence.
Qalandiya is located near an old Israeli airport; the Jerusalem suburb of Shoafat is adjacent to the Jewish neighborhood of Pisgat Zeev. The lands were purchased legally on behalf of JNF using Jewish donations in the early 1900s, immediately after the organization was founded in 1901 with the specific charge of repurchasing and developing the land of Israel for Jewish settlement.
A tour of Qalandiya found dozens of Arab apartment complexes, a Palestinian refugee camp and a U.N. school for Palestinians constructed on the land.
According to officials in Israel’s Housing Ministry, Arabs first constructed facilities illegally in Qalandiya and Kfar Akev between 1948 and 1967, prior to the 1967 Six-Day War during which Israel retook control of the entire city of Jerusalem.
Qalandiya, still owned by JNF, came under the management of the Israeli government’s Land Authority in the late 1960s.
Ministry officials say the bulk of illegal Arab construction in Qalandiya took place in the past 20 years, with construction of several new Arab apartment complexes taking place in just the past two years.
Neither the Israeli government nor JNF took any concrete measures to stop the illegal building, which continues today with at least one apartment complex in Qalandiya under construction.
Jerusalem’s Shoafat neighborhood, which has an estimated value of $3 million, was also purchased by JNF in the early 1900s and fell under the management of the Israel Land Authority about 40 years ago. Much of the illegal Arab construction in Shoafat took place in the past 15 years, with some apartment complexes built as late as 2004.
In Qalandiya and Shoafat, Israel’s security fence cordons off the Arab sections of the JNF lands from the rest of Jewish Jerusalem.
Internal JNF documents obtained by WND outline illegal Arab construction on the Jewish-owned land. A survey of Qalandiya summarized on JNF stationery conducted in December 2000 and signed by a JNF worker states, “In a lot of the plots I find Arabs are living and building illegally and also working the JNF land without permission.”
The JNF survey goes on to document illegal construction of Arab apartment complexes and the U.N. school under the property management of Israel’s Land Authority.
Group misleading donors?
In response to a WND exclusive report on the JNF’s alleged mismanagement of the properties, JNF CEO Russell Robinson sent statements to concerned donors that the illegal construction occurred during periods the Jerusalem land was occupied by Jordan.
“During that time the Jordanian government oversaw all activities, including the U.N. building. Under international law, this makes matters pertaining to the land more complicated than what [WND describes],” states Robinson’s letter
Jordan, together with other Arab countries, attacked Israel after its founding in 1948 and administered eastern sections of Jerusalem following an armistice agreement until Jordan attacked again and Israel liberated the entire city of Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War. During the period of Jordanian control, some new construction took place, including in areas previously purchased by Jews.
But WND obtained aerial photos of the two JNF sites in question, Shoafat and Qalandiya, which Robinson claimed were illegally built upon prior to 1967.
A photo taken in 1991 of Shoafat shows the entire area was a forest – meaning all illegal Arab construction took place after 1967 while the land was under Jewish control.
An aerial photo taken in 1967 of the second site, Qalandiya, which is now a large Arab town, finds construction of a U.N. building but few other sites, indicating the vast majority of Arab construction – dozens of large apartment complexes – occurred under JNF control. WND originally reported some of the construction took place prior to 1967, but the bulk of the building occurred the past few years, under Jewish management.
Robinson did not return phone calls seeking comment.
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