(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Israel should not divide Jerusalem as part of any future peace agreement with the Palestinians and should continue building throughout the city despite American opposition, Construction and Housing Minister Ze'ev Boim (Kadima) said Sunday.
His remarks reflected the deep divide within the governing party of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert over the future of Jerusalem.
"It is impossible to divide sovereignty over our capital city," Boim said in a keynote address at the Jerusalem Municipality's monthly Economic Forum.
"Creative solutions" needed to be found for the 250,000 Arab residents of the city, short of a division of sovereignty, he added.
Boim said he opposed Vice Premier Haim Ramon's much-publicized proposal to cede all the city's Arab neighborhoods to the Palestinians, adding that Kadima had failed to formulate "a clear stance" on this or any other final-status issues slated to be negotiated with the Palestinians this year.
The Palestinians demand all of east Jerusalem, along with the city's holy sites, as the capital of their future state.
In his address, Boim said Israel must press ahead with plans to expand the Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa despite rare US condemnation from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and even though the timing of the planned expansion of the neighborhood - coming on the heels of the US-sponsored peace conference in Annapolis - was "sensitive."
"We must tell ourselves that Jerusalem has municipal boundaries, and within these boundaries it is our right to build, and this is not an illegal settlement," he said.
Israel differentiates between building in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, while the international community considers both areas settlements.
Boim said that if Israel were to stop building in Har Homa, which was constructed in the 1990s amidst international condemnation, it would be "pulling the rug out from under our feet" and calling into question a patchwork of Jerusalem neighborhoods - from Ramot in the north to Gilo in the south - that were built after the 1967 Six Day War.
In any final peace deal, these neighborhoods, home to 180,000 residents, are expected to remain in Israeli hands.