JOEL SCHALIT: Israel to divide Jerusalem

Within hours of the swearing in of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's new government, the word started to trickle out: Israel intends to unilaterally divide Jerusalem. First disclosed in an AP wire report filed late Thursday afternoon, the announcement took everyone by surprise, including Israeli government staff in the US contacted for confirmation.

For a state renowned for its legendary lack of PR savvy, such news was clearly unexpected, and for a change, relatively good. So good, in fact, given the alleged proposals, that it might even dwarf the political significance of last year's withdrawal from Gaza. To be offering to carve up the most hotly contested of cities in the Arab-Israeli conflict before the country's new government had even sat down to its first official cabinet meeting, this "leak" was intended to send a very clear message: Israel's new government is dead serious about its plans to determine the country's borders.

According to the AP report, under the proposed plan, most of Jerusalem's Arab neighborhoods would be become part of Al Quds, the future Palestinian capital, while the Old City and the adjacent Arab neighborhoods of Sheikh Jarra and Silwan would remain Israeli territory. The vaunted Separation Wall would be moved west, according to AP's Ramit Plushnick-Masti, so that Jerusalem's Arab neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city would not be cut off from the West Bank -- as they are now, given the current route of the security barrier.

However conciliatory and positive these developments might seem, it's important for those seeking a just end to the Occupation and a fair and final division of territories between the Israelis and the Palestinians to hold their breath and wait and see just exactly what the details of the Israeli government's plans exactly are. Enough legitimate criticisms of Ehud Olmert's yet to be formally detailed "Convergence" plan have been raised that for as positive a symbolic development as today's news is, it is bound to have its fair share of pretty depressing downsides too.

In the meantime, considering the extremely controversial nature of offering to divide up Jerusalem, it's clear Israel's new government is in for a very rough ride from the country's religious and settler communities. Given the remarkable levels of tension and civil unrest that characterized last year's withdrawals from Gaza and the northern West Bank -- including highly melodramatic threats of civil war -- don't be surprised if this proposed division of Jerusalem results in previously unheard of levels of violence between religious Jews and the Israeli government.

With a potential long range conflict with Iran brewing in the background, and a continued standoff with Palestine's newly elected Hamas government, Israelis remain in an absolutely unenviable position of conflict with nearly everyone and everything around them -- including themselves. Nevertheless, if Israel succeeds in partitioning Jerusalem even somewhat equally, it will be an extremely good omen for resolving many of the country's other problems, from Ahmedinajad and Hamas to the settlements and increasingly high levels of social inequality. Here's to a little hope in a time of uncertainty.


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