Commentary Magazine


Now Olmert’s Dividing Jerusalem

In 1996, Benjamin Netanyahu defeated Shimon Peres in the run for Prime Minister of Israel using a particularly alarmist slogan: “Peres will divide Jerusalem!” Peres denied it, of course, and the Left asserted that this was just another example of Bibi’s incitement of the kind that led to Rabin’s assassination. Thus Peres continued the tradition of Israeli politicians of the left who have consistently hidden the extent of their willingness to compromise on territory for the sake of peace.

But now Ehud Olmert has come out of the closet as a divider of Jerusalem. For eight years he served as mayor of the holy city, using all the right words to defend the unity of Jerusalem, which after 2000 years had, since 1967, finally come under Jewish rule in both its eastern and western halves — halves that were only halved 19 years earlier, during the 1948 War of Independence. Today, however, he has declared that Israelis need to reconcile themselves with giving up both Eastern Jerusalem and the Golan Heights if they really want peace.

What has changed since Olmert was mayor that might lead a reasonable person to change his mind? Have the Palestinians appeared more willing to make peace since Arafat said No at Camp David II eight years ago and launched the Second Intifada? Has the Gaza withdrawal been such a success as to encourage us to try somethi ng similar in Israel’s own capital city? Has the Palestinian regime strengthened such that it is capable of implementing any piece of paper it signs, assuming it wanted to?

Both the phrasing and timing of Olmert’s latest tactic are crucial. By lumping the Golan together with Jerusalem, Olmert is making implicit reference to what these two pieces of land have in common: That as opposed to the West Bank, Gaza, and the Sinai Peninsula, Israel did not merely capture these territories in 1967, it extended civilian rule to them in 1981 under Prime Minister Menachem Begin, which for practical purposes was the same as annexing them. These places were at the time considered a part of the overwhelming Israeli consensus, and today are governed by the same institutions — elected municipal councils, ordinary police — and fall under the same laws as the rest of Israel, whereas the West Bank is to this day seen by Israeli law as occupied.

What Olmert is really saying, in other words, is this: I repudiate not only the Right’s historical approach to the traditional Jewish homeland of Judea and Samaria; I also repudiate what two decades ago was the national consensus. I am no longer a “moderate.” I am now of the Left, what was not too long ago the far Left, on the only issue that has consistently divided Left from Right: The question of how much territory, if any, to give up.

Why now? Because now Olmert is looking at the political abyss, and playing the only card left that can possibly save him: To become the newest of the former hawks who have seen the light, after Rabin, Sharon, and Tzipi Livni; to become the darling of the Left, and by implication of the media as well.

All this posturing, however, does little to address the question of whether dividing the city makes any sense.

On the ground, Jerusalem is not a city you can divide. The Arab neighborhoods of “East” Jerusalem are spotted all over the northern, northwestern, and southern parts of the city. And all across the “East” there are big and bustling Jewish neighborhoods as well. The new rapid-transit system being built will further integrate the city, passing through both Jewish and Arab neighborhoods. New roads and commercial centers have obliterated the old green line, which, unlike in the one separating the West Bank from Israel, no longer appea rs on maps and is scarcely a memory now. My own neighborhood, Ramot, straddles the line. The only way I could tell which side I was on was by looking in the map of Jerusalem in the World Book Encyclopedia.

But there is another reason why Jerusalem is not going to be divided. The Arabs of Eastern Jerusalem are mostly non-citizens, but unlike in the rest of the West Bank, the vast majority carry blue ID cards — just like Jews — which enable them to travel freely, and therefore find work, throughout Jerusalem and Israel. When Israel unilaterally closed the doors to the Gaza Strip, it was called a “siege.” What Palestinian government will have the strength to set up a border cutting East Jerusalem off from West? None, of course: This will be a weak regime, and getting weaker, and any Palestinian government will insist that Israel let the Palestinians keep crossing the border freely, which is something Israel will never do, any more than it allows Jordanians or Egyptians to travel unrestricted in Israel.

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