Israel Offers Outline to Divide Jerusalem

The Associated Press
Thursday, May 4, 2006; 4:39 PM

JERUSALEM -- Israel's new government is drawing up a blueprint for dividing the holy city of Jerusalem _ a once inconceivable notion _ giving the Palestinians nearly all the Arab neighborhoods while holding onto Jewish areas and disputed holy shrines.

Otniel Schneller, an architect of the plan, described it in interviews this week with The Associated Press, giving the clearest picture yet of how Israel plans to separate from the Palestinians, abandoning most of the West Bank.

"We will not divide Jerusalem, we will share it," he said.

Most of Jerusalem's Arab neighborhoods would go to the Palestinians, he said. "Those same neighborhoods will, in my assessment, be central to the makeup of the Palestinian capital ... al-Quds," Schneller said, calling Jerusalem by its Arabic name.

Israel would keep Jerusalem's Old City with its shrines sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians alike _ an unacceptable plan to Palestinians, particularly if carried out unilaterally.

Still, with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert determined to draw Israel's final borders by 2010, likely without waiting for Palestinian agreement, a division of Jerusalem looks realistic for the first time.

The plan reflects a sea change in the thinking of most Israelis, who once considered sacrilegious the idea of abandoning any part of the holy city.

Since Israel captured east Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast War, Israelis had been in broad agreement that the city could never again be divided. But after five years of intefadeh bloodshed, Israeli voters swept Olmert's Kadima Party into office in March 28 elections on a platform to separate from the Palestinians for the good of the Jewish state.

A plan to divide Jerusalem was first brought up in 2000 peace talks but failed to materialize. Schneller _ a Kadima lawmaker _ is reviving that plan with his blueprint. But he cautioned that the ideas are still in the planning stages, require international backing and that there's no clear timetable for carrying them out.

Under the plan, which would be executed unilaterally if efforts to resume peace talks fail, Jerusalem's Old City, its holy shrines and the adjacent neighborhoods, would become a "special region with special understandings" but remain under Israeli sovereignty, said Schneller.

The Old City and the adjacent "holy basin," which includes the predominantly Arab neighborhoods of Silwan and Sheik Jarrah, would fall on the Israeli side of the separation barrier Israel is building in the West Bank, another Israeli official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because plans are not final.

The plan also calls for moving the barrier westward. That means much of East Jerusalem would no longer be cut off from the West Bank and most Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem could become part of a future Palestinian state on the eastern side of the barrier, the official said.

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