Tue, Oct 09, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Israel may support a divided Jerusalem

PROPOSAL Under the deputy vice premier's plan, neighborhoods in the east would be transferred to Palestinian sovereignty, but Israel would not lose control of the Holy City

AGENCIES , JERUSALEM

A confidant of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said yesterday that his government would support a division of Jerusalem, which is reportedly a key component of an Israeli-Palestinian declaration to be made at a US-sponsored Middle East peace conference next month.

As part of recent negotiations between the sides, Deputy Vice Premier Haim Ramon has proposed turning over many of the Arab neighborhoods of east Jerusalem to the Palestinians. Ramon said the Palestinians could establish the capital of a future state in the sector of the city, which Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war.

In return, Israel would receive the recognition of the international community, including Arab states, of its sovereignty over Jewish neighborhoods and the existence of its capital there, Ramon said.

Yesterday Ramon said even hawkish elements of Olmert's coalition, like Cabinet Minister Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu Party, would back such an Israeli concession. The centrist Labor Party would also support the proposal, Ramon said.

"There are two central parties that agree to this," Ramon told Army Radio. "The most important thing is to preserve the state of Israel Jewish and democratic."

Under his proposal, neighborhoods in east Jerusalem where about 170,000 Palestinians live would be transferred to Palestinian sovereignty, Ramon said.

But Israel would not transfer control of the Holy City and those neighborhoods around it to the Palestinians, he said. He did not elaborate but media reports have said that he has proposed Israel relinquish some sovereignty in the area that contains the most contentious sites in the 60-year conflict.

Extreme right-wing minister Avigdor Lieberman called on Sunday for a partial Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian districts in East Jerusalem to help the peace process, government sources said.

"In the context of a peace accord it would be necessary to carry out a transfer of territories and populations, under which Israel would give up certain Arab districts of East Jerusalem," said Avigdor's spokesman, Yossy Levy.

His comments drew a sharp response from the opposition, who said Lieberman had abandoned the principle of the indivisibility of Jerusalem.

Lieberman has in the past argued generally for an exchange of territory and populations between Israel and a future Palestinian state, with the aim of separating the two communities, but never with a specific reference to East Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, Olmert ruled out using the US-sponsored Middle East conference next month as a substitute for direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, an apparent attempt to lower expectations from the gathering called by US President George W. Bush.

Violence threatened to overshadow the preparations. On Sunday, Gaza militants fired a Katyusha rocket at southern Israel. No one was hurt, but it raised the dire possibility of an escalation in the daily battles with Israeli forces, because Katyushas are far more dangerous than the homemade rockets militants have been firing.

Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas bombarded northern Israel with nearly 4,000 of the rockets in their monthlong war with Israel last year, killing dozens of Israelis.

Palestinians were scaling back their demands before the conference, improving chances for an agreement with Israel on an advance document.

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