Israel Official Proposes Splitting Jerusalem

A high-level Israeli official proposed dividing the holy city of Jerusalem with Palestinians on Monday as part of a potential peace deal.

"It is in Israel's interest to tackle the issue of Jerusalem in the negotiations," deputy prime minister Haim Ramon said, according to Agence France-Presse.

Israel has called Jerusalem its "eternal, indivisible capital."

"If we reach a deal with the Palestinians, the Arab world and the international community according to which the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem will be recognized as the capital of Israel and the Arab neighborhoods as part of the Arab capital, will that be a bad deal?"

Israel took control of Arab east Jerusalem – including the Old City with sites holy to Christianity, Judaism, and Islam – during the 1967 Six Day war and later annexed it.

Some Israeli leaders have expressed alarm over Ramon's idea to split Jerusalem.

"Of course, Jerusalem is not on the negotiations agenda," Trade and Industry Minister and chairman of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party Eli Yishai told AFP.

Meanwhile, Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's Kadima party said on public radio: "The issue of the division of Jerusalem is an inalienable asset of the state of Israel. Palestinian refugees will not be returned to Israel and Jerusalem will not be divided."

Ramon's comment comes after Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met last week to prepare a joint statement of understanding ahead of the bilateral talks planned after a U.S.-sponsored Middle East conference in November.

"The meeting is an important occasion to reach an agreement on the political horizon with the Palestinian partners and we cannot miss this opportunity," said Ramon to the army radio, according to AFP.

"The alternative in case of failure is that we will be left to face Hamas and fight it," he said.

Hamas-controlled Gaza and Israel exchange rockets on a regular basis across its shared border. Palestinians have demanded that Jerusalem be the capital of their promised state.

According to Charles Clayton, national director for World Vision Jerusalem-West Bank-Gaza, "[a]nything that brings a glimmer of hope to people is worthwhile pursuing."

But he acknowledged in a report Monday that "the fallback from an ill-prepared process can be much worse from a humanitarian perspective."

World Vision has been working in the North Gaza Area Development Program (ADP) even amid rising concerns of a military operation being conducted in Gaza as threatened by Israeli military officials, including the Minister of Defense.

Evangelicals, widely known for their strong support of Israel, have split on the Israel-Palestine issue. Although some Christian Zionist leaders are staunchly against any division of Israel land, others are in favor of a two-state solution.

In July, 34 prominent evangelical leaders – ranging from presidents of some of the nation's top Christian universities and humanitarian organizations to the editor of the top Christian magazine – acknowledged that both Israelis and Palestinians have rights to the disputed land.

"We, who sign this letter, represent large numbers of evangelicals throughout the U.S. who support justice for both Israelis and Palestinians," stated the letter to U.S. President George W. Bush published in the New York Times

"Historical honesty compels us to recognize that both Israelis and Palestinians have legitimate rights stretching back for millennia to the lands of Israel/Palestine," it also noted.

Signers predicted that to achieve the agreement both sides will be required to give up some of its demands and reach a compromise.

"Israelis and Palestinians must both accept each other's right to exist," they stated.

Signers included Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary; David Neff, editor of Christianity Today; Richard Stearns, president of World Vision; Tony Campolo, president/founder of Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education; Stephen Hayner, former president InterVarsity Christian Fellowship; and Joel Hunter, senior pastor of Northland Church in Longwood, Fla., and member of the executive committee of the National Association of Evangelicals.

In Israel, Prime Minister Olmert responded to the Jerusalem division controversy by saying that sacrifices would have to be made for peace with Palestinians but a deal was a long way off, according to Reuters. Commentators say Olmert's vague response was aimed at deflecting pressure from the proposal to divide Jerusalem.

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