Sharansky: Dividing Jerusalem 'crisis'

Former MK launches campaign against government plan to cede city's Arab neighborhoods.

natan sharansky 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
natan sharansky 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Former minister and world-renowned Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky on Tuesday launched a new public campaign against the division of Jerusalem, citing an acute "identity crisis" among Israeli political leaders. The multi-million dollar campaign, which is being launched by the privately funded 'One Jerusalem' organization that was set up in 2000 in order to maintain Jerusalem as a united city under Israeli sovereignty, comes just one week before the planned peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland, and as the government is openly discussing the possibility of ceding Arab neighborhoods of the city to the Palestinians as part of a final peace agreement. "Above all, Jerusalem is the base of our identity," Sharansky said at a Jerusalem press conference announcing the launching of the campaign. "The problem is that there are many people who want to get rid of their identity," added Sharansky, who has lately quit politics and has retired to a conservative Jerusalem research institute. Sharansky, who resigned from the government of former Prime Minister Ehud Barak following Barak's willingness to divide Jerusalem at the failed Camp David talks in the summer of 2000, said that any future division of Jerusalem would weaken the Jewish people around the world, and that the upcoming peace conference could bring long-term strategic dangers to the State of Israel. The open-ended public campaign, entitled 'More than anything else Jerusalem,' will include radio and newspaper advertisements, special bus tours of Jerusalem in the coming weeks for tens of thousands of Israelis, an interactive Internet site, and the distribution of golden ribbons for the unity of Jerusalem, a spin-off of the orange ribbon which was the symbol of the former Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip. "Once again Jerusalem is being threatened by a government that is interested in tearing apart Jerusalem for an illusory agreement," said Yehiel Leiter, Director General of One Jerusalem. The organization, which was born out of the proposed division of Jerusalem at the Camp David talks seven years ago, gained prominence in January 2001 after organizing a massive demonstration against the division of Jerusalem which was attended by 400,000 people, including then Jerusalem mayor Ehud Olmert, in what was billed as the largest demonstration in the history of Jerusalem. The proposed division of the city which would leave Jewish neighborhoods under Israeli control and put Arab neighborhoods under Palestinian control was the basis of former US President Bill Clinton's peace plan for Jerusalem which was rejected seven years ago by the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat at Camp David. The Tuesday press conference of the new campaign included clips of Olmert from the demonstration condemning the US and Israeli plans for the division of Jerusalem seven years ago. In the years since, Olmert has said that he is willing to cede at least six outlying Arab neighborhoods in the city to the Palestinians as part of a final peace treaty, while his close ally, Vice Premier Haim Ramon, has proposed handing over all Arab neighborhoods in the city except for those located in the "holy basin" around the Old City of Jerusalem, where, he suggested, a "special administration" would be set up for the Jerusalem holy sites. The Israeli offer falls short of Palestinian demands for a full Israeli withdrawal from all of east Jerusalem. The Palestinians claim all of east Jerusalem - including the Jerusalem holy sites - as the capital of their future state. Public opinion polls have shown that about two-thirds of Israelis oppose any division of Jerusalem.