Olmert will di­vide Jerusalem

Par­ti­tion­ing the cap­i­tal looks like a vote-win­ner among sec­u­lar Is­raelis and Charedim alike

The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment & Analysis - GE­OF­FREY AL­DER­MAN

THE CITY of An­napo­lis lies on the east coast of the USA. It was the first cap­i­tal city of the United States of Amer­ica, and is now the seat of gov­ern­ment of the state of Mary­land. Later this month it is des­tined once more to en­ter the his­tory books, for it has been cho­sen by Amer­ica’s Sec­re­tary of State, Dr Con­doleezza Rice, as the set­ting for a con­fer­ence de­signed to pave the way for a peace agree­ment be­tween Is­rael and its Arab neigh­bours.

In the run-up to any such ne­go­ti­a­tion it is only to be ex­pected that the war­ring par­ties will fly var­i­ous kites — that is, they will leak or cause to be leaked var­i­ous bar­gain­ing po­si­tions which they may or may not of­fi­cially adopt when the real talk­ing be­gins.

On the one hand, there­fore, one might be in­clined not to take th­ese leaks too se­ri­ously. On the other, one would be fool­ish to ig­nore them en­tirely.

It is with that ad­mo­ni­tion in mind that I ask you to dwell on an ex­tra­or­di­nary se­ries of leaks that have come from the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment of Ehud Olmert, and with his silent bless­ing. The im­me­di­ate au­thor of th­ese leaks — in­deed, the leaker-in-chief — has been none other than Mr Olmert’s deputy, Haim Ra­mon.

At the be­gin­ning of Oc­to­ber, Mr Ra­mon gave in­ter­views on Is­raeli ra­dio. His pur­pose was to urge the ac­cep­tance by Is­rael of the par­ti­tion of Jerusalem as a cen­tral el­e­ment in any deal ham­mered out at An­napo­lis.

He was sur­pris­ingly frank and ex­plicit. Speak­ing “with the author­ity but with­out the ap­proval” of his boss (Mr Olmert), he de­clared that Is­rael should cede to a fu­ture Pales­tinian state prac­ti­cally the whole of east Jerusalem — cer­tainly those neigh­bour­hoods with an Arab ma­jor­ity.

As for the Tem­ple Mount, to the whole of which the Pales­tinian Author­ity has nat­u­rally laid claim, Mr Ra­mon an­nounced that, in his view, some “spe­cial ar­range­ment” should be worked out; in other words, the Pales­tinian claim was not re­jected out of hand. I gasped when I read th­ese words, be­cause on June 12, 2006 I had been present at an in­vi­ta­tiononly (though hardly se­cret) meet­ing that Mr Olmert had ad­dressed in Lon­don.

Asked specif­i­cally about the fu­ture sta­tus of Jerusalem, Mr Olmert gave a cat­e­gor­i­cal, ap­plause-draw­ing re­sponse: as long as he was prime min­is­ter, Jerusalem, un­di­vided, would re­main the cap­i­tal of the Jewish state.

Later that year, in a widely pub­li­cised speech to Chris­tian tourists visit­ing Is­rael, Mr Olmert re­peated this pledge: Jerusalem would re­main “the united and un­di­vided” cap­i­tal of Is­rael.

Whilst em­pha­sis­ing that of course the city would re­main open to peo­ple of all faiths, he de­clared: “This is the city that God has cho­sen to be the cap­i­tal of the Jewish peo­ple and it will re­main the cap­i­tal of the Jewish peo­ple.”

So why, now, is his deputy reneg­ing on this prom­ise?

One rea­son might be that Mr Olmert is be­ing pres­sured by the USA to say some­thing that will look at­trac­tive to Arab eyes, and en­sure that there is a con­vinc­ing Arab pres­ence in An­napo­lis.

Once the talk­ing be­gins, Mr Olmert can al­ways re­pu­di­ate Mr Ra­mon’s words: yes, Mr Ra­mon was speak­ing with his author­ity, but — alas — with­out his ap­proval.

If this is in­deed Mr Olmert’s strat­egy, it is a highly dan­ger­ous one. If An­napo­lis turns out to be a fail­ure (which is be­ing widely pre­dicted), Mr Olmert will be blamed, and Is­rael will be con­demned.

There is, how­ever, a much more straight­for­ward ex­pla­na­tion, and that is that Mr Olmert re­ally does in­tend to re-par­ti­tion Jerusalem.

Sec­u­lar Jewish Is­raelis have no par­tic­u­lar emo­tional at­tach­ment to the city. Anti-Zion­ist Charedim ac­tu­ally op­pose Jewish con­trol of the Tem­ple Mount, fear­ing that this will pre-empt a restora­tion that God alone should prop­erly de­ter­mine.

A poll con­ducted by the Jerusalem In­sti­tute for Is­rael Stud­ies ear­lier this year, to mark the 40th an­niver­sary of Jerusalem’s re-uni­fi­ca­tion, ac­tu­ally sug­gested that 58 per cent of Is­raeli Jews might be will­ing to di­vide Jerusalem as part of the price for a peace ac­cord with the Pales­tini­ans.

So an agree­ment to re-di­vide Jerusalem could well be a vote-win­ner, bol­ster­ing Mr Olmert’s own po­lit­i­cal for­tunes and earn­ing praise from the USA into the bar­gain.

If I am wrong, Mr Olmert still has time to say so. If he does, I will lose no time in of­fer­ing a ful­some apol­ogy.

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