TEL AVIV – A new plan to separate Jerusalem’s Jewish and Arab neighborhoods has been rejected by both sides of the Israeli political spectrum as well as the Palestinians, according to an article in The New York Times.
The plan, which was promoted by a group of liberal Israelis and supported in principle by the leftwing Labor party, would divide eastern Jerusalem’s Palestinian neighborhoods from the rest of the city and transfer responsibility for about two-thirds of the capital’s Arabs to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.
The campaign, called “Saving Jewish Jerusalem,” is headed by Haim Ramon, a former minister from Labor and the centrist Kadima party.
According to Ramon, if the Arab residents end their boycott of city elections, the next mayor of Jerusalem will not be Jewish.
“If the Palestinians were clever, they would decide, instead of the knife, to use the vote,” he said, referring to the recent wave of violence in which Palestinians carry out stabbing attacks.
“You cannot have a strategy that your enemy will be stupid forever,” he added.
According to the Times, the new campaign claims that Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents imperil the security, demographic balance, standard of living, and economy of the city. It argues that a majority of people 18 and under in the city are Palestinian and plays on fears raised by the recent surge of Palestinian attacks against Israeli Jews.
The majority of the Jerusalem’s 300,000 Arab residents — about a third of the city’s population — hold permanent residency status that gives them all the social benefits and freedom of work and movement in Israel. A small minority has chosen to apply for full Israeli citizenship, but that number is growing.
Following Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ UN bid for Palestinian statehood in September 2011, there was an increase in Arab residents of Jerusalem applying for Israeli citizenship in anticipation of a Palestinian state. A survey that polled Arab Jerusalemites shortly after showed that only 30% said they would prefer Palestinian over Israeli citizenship.
The New York Times said that the new plan to divide Jerusalem aims to satisfy a majority of Israeli Jews, who want some kind of partition but do not believe that a full peace deal is attainable at present.
However, the Times states, representatives from all sides of the political spectrum have lambasted the idea. Ir Amim, a leftist group that promotes Jerusalem as the dual capital of Israel and a future Palestine, said that such a unilateral move would “lead to political, urban, and humanitarian chaos.”
Moshe Arens, a former minister from the conservative Likud party, asserted that any such split “has become essentially impossible” and stripping eastern Jerusalem Arabs of their Israeli residency permits “would be legally questionable and morally reprehensible.”
Meanwhile, Saeb Erekat, the secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the PA’s chief negotiator, called the proposal “racist.”
“Thousands of Jerusalemites will be separated from their schools, hospitals, religious sites, and also their properties,” he said. “This plan clearly shows that even members of the so-called progressive Israeli camp are falling into the same policies as the Israeli right.”
The status of Jerusalem has been one of the key issues in solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
In the 1967 Six Day War provoked by Arab nations, Israel conquered Jerusalem’s Old City and the West Bank, then controlled by Jordan.
“Demographically, it’s a compelling argument,” Michael Oren, a center-right Member of Knesset who was Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., said of the plan. “Israel has a strategic interest in maintaining a Jewish majority in the capital of the Jewish state.”
Oren, however, had reservations about redefining who is a Jerusalemite as a way of combating demographic challenges. Instead, he said that more jobs and lower taxes would motivate more Israeli Jews to move to the capital.