Eitam: Only strong right bloc can stop division of Jerusalem

Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu will not be able to stop the de facto division of Jerusalem, which is already under way, unless there is a strong rightist bloc in the Knesset to supervise the Likud, MK Effi Eitam (National Union) said Monday. His comments came amid a bitter stalemate in weeks of on-again, off-again negotiations between the National Union and the National Religious Party over forming a right-wing bloc in the upcoming Knesset elections, with each side blaming the other for the repeated breakdowns in the talks. Public opinion polls have indicated that the two parties would more than double their strength if they unite. The warnings also came as an increasing number of mainstream politicians are talking about making certain territorial concessions in the city. Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said that he envisions ceding at least six outlying Arab neighborhoods to the Palestinians as part of a final peace agreement. "The debate over the division of Jerusalem is hypothetical, because in fact the capital is already divided, and is being further divided by Ariel Sharon and Shimon Peres," Eitam said during a party pre-election tour of the periphery of Jerusalem. During their morning tour, the right-wing MKs visited the area between Jerusalem and Ma'aleh Adumim, where Israel has frozen a decade-old construction plan, known as E1, following American pressure. The plan, which would have linked the suburban settlement to the capital, has been subject to fierce opposition from Palestinians, who charge it will irreversibly hamper territorial continuity on land they want for a future state. The ongoing construction of a new police station in the area, meant to help stymie illegal Arab building on the empty land, has not been effected by the building freeze. "The things we saw here prove that Jerusalem is already divided... If things go on like this, Netanyahu's government may continue in dividing the capital, and there will be no one to stop it," Eitam said. "Without a strong rightist bloc to watch over the Likud, Netanyahu may divide Jerusalem or fail to prevent its division." Eitam's decision to lash out at Netanyahu, even though public opinion polls are forecasting a landslide victory for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in the March 28 elections, was seen as a direct appeal to potential right-wing voters who are wavering between voting for a Netanyahu-led Likud and the National Union.