The Battle for Jerusalem Begins
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will put Jerusalem on the negotiating table as he hurtles toward a “joint declaration” with the Palestinian Authority ahead of next month’s U.S.-sponsored Mideast summit. The prime minister says that a joint declaration with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas prior to the summit will lead to direct negotiations.
The Arabic Al Quds Al-Arabiya newspaper reported Monday morning that Olmert has now come to an agreement with Jordan that Arabs in eastern Jerusalem will be granted Jordanian citizenship. The plan would leave Jerusalem's Muslim holy sites under the control of the Hashemite kingdom, according to the report.
Olmert vehemently denied the report in a statement issued by the Prime Minister's Office. "The idea never existed," said the statement.
Vice Prime Minister Chaim Ramon, the Prime Minister's close aide and friend, however, has been pushing for the division of Jerusalem. Ramon has been promoting his own plan to hand half of the city over to the Palestinian Authority (PA), not to Jordan.
Ramon also publicly backed an arrangement for sovereignty over Jerusalem's Old City. Only regarding the Jewish Quarter did Ramon state it would remain under Israeli rule. But Monday morning he cautioned that it is too early to detail possible arrangements.
Dr. Guy Bechor, a leading expert on Arab affairs, said recently that the prime minister agreed in writing nearly two months ago to hand over half of Jerusalem to the Palestinian Authority. He based his information on "leaks from the Palestinian side."
Dr. Bechor said that Judea and Samaria, the strategic highlands in the middle of the Jewish State where much biblical history occurred, are also on the chopping block. The Olmert government is pushing for the establishment of an Arab state to be called Palestine alongside the Jewish State. A large but undetermined number of thriving Jewish towns in Judea and Samaria that were built over the past 40 years will be destroyed, according to the agreement.
Dividing historic Jerusalem is an explosive point as four no-confidence motions are brought to a vote Monday, the first day of the Knesset's winter session.
A number of Knesset members strongly opposed the plan, including MK Ze'ev Elkin, a member of Olmert's own Kadima party.
“I very much hope this is simply a rumor,” Elkin told reporters on Monday. “But if it is true, it is certainly a perversion of the Kadima party platform, and I will fight Vice Prime Minister Ramon’s plan with everything in my power. I will defend the unity of
National Union Knesset Member Tzvi Hendel contended that placing control over the Temple Mount under Jordanian sovereignty is nothing less than national suicide.
"I realized a long time ago to my sorrow that there was no doubt Olmert would divide Jerusalem," he said. "Today it has become clear that even the Temple Mount, the heart of hearts of the Jewish People, is on the sales sheet for destruction. "
Hendel added that Israel relinquishing control of the Temple Mount constitutes "an existential threat to the State of Israel."
Olmert’s intent to divide Jerusalem also comes in direct contradiction to a previous promise he made to Christian Zionists a year ago, as well as one made by Foreign Minister and then-deputy Prime Minister Tzipi Livni several months ago.
“If there is any agreement with the Palestinians it will be brought to the government for its approval, and then to the Knesset for ratification as well," promised Livni.
Prime Minister Olmert assured cabinet ministers Sunday that he will not make any strategic concessions to the PA at the U.S.-sponsored Mideast summit next month, but added the caveat that he nonetheless has the authority to cut a deal if he so chooses, without the approval of the Knesset.
PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has continued to up the ante in demands before the November 26th summit, insisting that a final agreement be spelled out to include all of Judea, Samaria and Gaza as part of a new Arab state, with Jerusalem as its capital.
Abbas’s demands signal a hardening of his stance that any future state include Israel's withdrawing from all of the land beyond the 1949 Armistice Lines and which was restored to the country after the Six Day War in 1967.