Olmert will divide Jerusalem
Partitioning the capital looks like a vote-winner among secular Israelis and Charedim alike
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.