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Splitting heirs

Israel’s prime-ministerial election in 2001 was fought with one key issue in mind: the future of Jerusalem.

Just weeks before the poll some 250,000 – 500,000 Israelis gathered around the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City demanding the entire city remain the “undivided capital of Israel.”

It was the rally cry of thousands during campaigning – those who backed Ariel Sharon, the man who defeated serving Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

The movement was a reaction to the Camp David peace talks of 2000 attended by Barak and Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat, under the chairmanship of then President Bill Clinton. During that gathering, Barak offered to divide Jerusalem, giving most of the Arab parts of the city to the Palestinians. In the event, it was rejected by Arafat.

However, several polls at the time suggested if that would guarantee an end to the violence, then about 50 percent of Israelis would support the move. The other 50% seemed to be saying with one voice, “but it won’t end the violence.”

Barak’s Labor Party largely swept the “splitting-Jerusalem” theme under the carpet immediately after Camp David, with the Palestinian violence allowing the party to take on a more dovish outer appearance. That move was spearheaded by Barak’s replacement as party leader, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer.

Now, though, Ben-Eliezer has been served his marching orders by the party and has been replaced by the dovish, some would say ultra-dovish, Amram Mitzna. Outgoing Haifa mayor Mitzna has established a team to produce the party’s manifesto ahead of the upcoming January 28 general election.

The party’s platform will include the reference to the Israeli capital as comprising “the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem,” at least according to today’s editions of Israel’s two largest selling daily newspapers, Yediot Aharonot and Ma’ariv.

Already many Labor rank and file members are up in arms because of the reports. Logic says they oppose the formal adoption of the splitting of Jerusalem for one of two reasons: either because they themselves object to the division of the capital, or they fear it will make the party even more unelectable to power than it already is.

The pundits are suggesting Mitzna has come up with the idea in order to challenge Meretz, the dovish party, which is currently gaining ground in opinion polls at Labor’s expense.

Whatever the reasoning, in practice the plan achieves many things, including (not in any particular order):

• acceding to the Palestinian demand to make Jerusalem the capital of a Palestinian state
• cutting off several Jewish areas from other districts of the capital
• means the Israeli-controlled part of the city will have a massive Jewish majority
• putting most of the Old City in Arab hands
• reducing the amount of social welfare provided by the municipality.

Controversial? Definitely. Popular? So far not. Inevitable? Only time will tell.