ישראל נאמן | Lectures, Articles, Tours: Israel | Mideast onTarget | Elliot Chodoff & Yisrael Ne'eman | Dividing Jerusalem 13.7.05

Dividing Jerusalem

13 July 2005

By Yisrael Ne'eman

Lately, commentators and critics of PM Ariel Sharon are shrill in their demand that the PM talk to them and not just continue with the Disengagement, especially in the face of Palestinian violence. This week the Netanya bombing killed five and kassam rocket attacks continue falling in the western Negev. But Sharon's long term plan only begins with Gaza. They do not seem to get it, he is pursuing a diplomatic– political policy and will limit the distraction of military issues to a minimum.

First he will disengage from Gaza and northern Samaria (they are now being cordoned off) and in the end he will divide Jerusalem, falling in line with right wing accusations and left wing hopes. The great myth of a united Jerusalem penetrated Israeli society for some 38 years but the reality was always different and everyone who cared to, knew it. The vast majority of Arab Jerusalemites live in the far north of the city, an area of no great holiness which in the past 3,000 years was never part of the city. In 1967 this line was drawn to include the Atarot airport and save a few million dollars so Israel would not need to build one to the west of the city.

Just last week the government approved eleven passageways into the city from the West Bank, ten of them mobile. The fence/wall surrounding Israel's capitol may not be finished but its planned route will leave 55,000 Arabs on the other side of the fence along with another 70,000 who live just outside the city but hold Israeli ID cards (not citizenship). In essence the barrier is to cut through parts of Arab Jerusalem and not follow the municipal boundaries. Paradoxically the Palestinians are complaining they want to be inside the fence (and thereby separated from the West Bank) and have turned to the Israeli Supreme Court for redress. For the time being 130,000 Palestinians will remain inside the city (Yediot Achronot July 8, 2005).

The exercise is one in "security" to keep terrorists out but as everyone knows, the demographic issue lies at the basis of such a decision. The Israeli public will get used to the fact that Arab areas of Jerusalem can and will be ceded to the rising Palestinian State. Very few Jews (with the noted exception of Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin) are protesting in favor of a united, fenced in/walled in Jerusalem. Less than a month ago, Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupoliansky spoke of an Arab majority in the city in ten years. Jerusalem today is a third Palestinian and growing steadily. They have rights to Israeli social security and other benefits while Jews are leaving as economic opportunities are lacking. The good mayor is exaggerating but the point is well taken. Most expect the city to have an Arab majority in 20 – 25 years instead. Lupoliansky rules over one of Israel's most destitute municipalities (and growing more impoverished all the time) as a result of the Arab and ultra-orthodox population boom and accompanying unemployment (or if you like – yeshiva study) rate.

Lupoliansky, who himself is ultra-orthodox, has his own solution to the problem – annex Jerusalem's wealthier suburbs, not only for demographic reinforcement (temporary as it may be) but to gain access to millions of tax shekels. The plan only has one flaw – it will only happen over the dead bodies of the residents of Mevasseret Tzion, Ma'ale Adumim and Givat Ze'ev. They are like everyone else who professes love for "the eternal united Jewish capitol – Jerusalem" but prefer not to share resources with the holy city. Lupoliansky's complaints, the demarcation of the fence/wall (which is portable) and the ten mobile crossing points into the city are all meant to soften up the Israeli public for the big reality zap – the re-division of Jerusalem – along mostly ethnic/national lines.

The PM has a problem. You cannot undo almost four decades of wishful, "Never NeverLand" thinking within a few months. The Israeli political center needs to be spoon fed reality fixes and readied for the upcoming division of the city. If done "correctly" in a few years most of Jerusalem's Arab population will end up as part of a Palestinian entity/state. The PM will never say it out loud, but when Likud rebel leader Uzi Landau declared the Disengagement from Gaza as the first step towards the division of Jerusalem, he hit the nail on the head.

Most are looking for an angle in Sharon's thinking, but there is none. He is in favor of a two-state solution, one where the Palestinians keep as many Arabs as possible and Israel keeps as much land (for security and demographic needs) as can be negotiated. And for the most part, excepting the Old City and the surrounding holy sites, the same principle applies to Jerusalem.