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Israeli Lawmakers Sign Petition Against Division of Jerusalem

  • Robert Berger

There is a new hitch in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, a powerful group of Israeli lawmakers is trying to prevent concessions on Jerusalem.

Sixty-one of 120 Israeli parliamentarians have signed a petition opposing the division of Jerusalem. The petitioners include two Cabinet ministers from the ruling Kadima party of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Another Kadima minister, Shaul Mofaz, plans to follow suit.

Mofaz tells Israel Radio that Jerusalem is not negotiable, especially at a time when the Palestinians have failed to crack down on terrorism. He says Jerusalem is the eternal and undivided capital of the State of Israel.

The petitioners are trying to tie the hands of Mr. Olmert, who says he is prepared to divide Jerusalem as part of a peace deal with the Palestinians. Jerusalem and other thorny issues have prevented formulation of a joint document on Palestinian statehood to be presented at an international conference in the United States this year.

Under Mr. Olmert's plan, Israel would give up some Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem, but not the Old City which is the site of contested holy sites, and some surrounding areas. Israeli analyst Pinchas Inbari says that for the prime minister it is an issue of demographics. The Jewish majority in Jerusalem would be strengthened by relinquishing neighborhoods that are home to 170,000 Palestinians.

"He's very flexible about redefining the borders of Jerusalem. He stick[s] to the opinion that the core of Jerusalem must be in the Israeli hands. But he's very much ready to give up neighborhoods that are not directly linked to the core of Jerusalem," said Inbari.

Mr. Olmert wants to leave the Jerusalem issue vague in the declaration of principles for the peace conference, while the Palestinians are insisting on details that would obligate Israel.

The Palestinians have not commented on the Israeli lawmakers' petition, but their long-standing position is that Israel must withdraw from all the territories captured in the 1967 war, including Jerusalem's Old City.

If Mr. Olmert agrees in writing to divide Jerusalem, his coalition government could collapse.

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