Kadima MK: Olmert Will Keep Cave of the Patriarchs

Knesset Member Otniel Schneller said Thursday that Hevron’s Jewish community won’t be axed in any plan to set permanent borders for Israel. Neither will the Cave of the Patriarchs.

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Hana Levi Julian, | updated: 18:10

Schneller, a member of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s Kadima party, is a resident of the Yesha community of Michmash, one of those set to be destroyed if Olmert's withdrawal plan goes through. He told the Associated Press on Thursday that the Jewish neighborhoods in Hevron will be attached to the nearby community of Kiryat Arba in any final settlement.

The Cave of the Machpela, also known as the Cave of the Patriarchs, where Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sara, Rebecca, Leah, Adam and Eve are buried, would be included in the Israeli borders, Schneller hopes. The site is also holy to Muslims because Abraham was the father of Ishmael.

Olmert wishes to begin preparations for his withdrawal plan within 6-12 months if the Palestinian Authority does not come to the table to negotiate a permanent peace agreement within that time. Under the plan, Israel will draw its permanent borders, to be completed by 2008.

Some 500 Jews live in Hevron, one of the four holiest cities in the Land of Israel. This is the first time a Knesset Member has made a definite statement that Hevron’s Jews will be able to keep their homes and their place within Israel’s final borders. However, Schneller has admitted in the past that no one knows the exact delineation of the borders under the withdrawal plan.

The statement comes in the wake of the recent expulsion of three families from their new home in Beit Shapira, a building purchased by the Hevron community from PA Arabs several months before. The Arabs challenged the sale, and the Supreme Court ruled that the police could expel the Jews in order to set the stage for a clarification of the transaction's legality.

Schneller, who served as the secretary-general of the Yesha Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza from 1983 to 1986, maintained Thursday that Hevron’s Jews have nothing to fear from Olmert’s unilateral withdrawal plan.

“The Jewish neighborhood in Hevron will grow,” he told the Associated Press. He added that the government would find “creative ways” to separate the Jewish areas from the Arab sections of Hevron. “Hevron and Kiryat Arba are supposed to be part of the Israeli state,” he asserted hopefully.