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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Barak: Arab areas in Jerusalem could be Palestinian capital

Israel Defense Minister Ehud Barak has said some Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem could become the capital of a future Palestinian state as part of a final peace agreement. This is no different from the formula he offered in 2000. Palestinians continue to insist that Israel has no national rights whatever in East Jerusalem. The late Yasser Arafat amazed American politicians by claiming repeatedly that there had been no Jewish presence in Jerusalem in antiquity. Archeological finds give evidence of the Jewish monarchy as early as King Hezekiah in 700 BC and ancient writers commonly referred to Jerusalem as the former Jewish capital, but Palestinian leaders pretend this evidence does not exist. Arafat's views were frequently seconded by the former Mufti of Jerusalem, Ikremah Sabri.
Prior to 1948, about 5,000 Jews lived in the Jewish quarter of the Old City. The community underwent attrition due to Arab riots in 1929 and 1936. In 1948, the entire community was ethnically cleansed by the Transjordan Legion under the supervision of British officers. East Jerusalem was also the site of the original campus of the Hebrew University, which was reconstituted after 1967. Arab media however, ignore the Jewish connection to East Jerusalem in modern times as well as ancient, and commonly refer to it as "Arab East Jerusalem" on the basis of the 19 year illegal Jordanian occupation.
East Jerusalem is also the site of Masjid Al Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock, important Muslim holy places.
Fatah leaders have been promising a Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem since the signing of the Oslo accords, though Israel never undertook to cede all of Jerusalem or any of it as part of a peace setltement.
"We can find a formula under which certain neighborhoods, heavily-populated Arab neighborhoods, could become, in a peace agreement, part of the Palestinian capital that, of course, will include also the neighboring villages around Jerusalem," Barak told Al-Jazeera television.
"I'm not sure whether the gaps are close enough," Barak said when asked if a deal was possible this year.
Officially, Israel is not discussing Jerusalem with the Palestinians at all, since the non-Zionist ultraorthodox Shas party insisted they would leave the coalition if any concessions were offered in Jerusalem. Orthodox and ultraorthodox Jews in the United States and Israel, rather than Zionists, are the chief opposition to Israeli compromise on the issue. As long as the Palestinians remain intent on excluding Israel entirely from East Jerusalem, the issue of Israeli compromise is a moot point.
Ami Isseroff

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