Courtesy of CBNNews.com - Senior Israeli officials, including Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, have expressed their support for a plan that would divide the holy city of Jerusalem.
Under the plan revealed Monday, Arab portions of the city would be placed under Palestinian control. It is a major concession by the Israeli government on one of the most contentious issues in the Mideast conflict.
In recent talks with Palestinian official, Olmert said he has proposed to turn over areas of east Jerusalem to the Palestinians. The Palestinians claim east Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent state. Israel captured the city in the 1967 Mideast war.
The proposal is a significant Israeli concession. Israel has annexed east Jerusalem and claims all of the city as its undivided capital.
The popular Israeli view is that the Jewish state must give up the outlying areas of Jerusalem, where tens of thousands of Palestinians live, in order to preserve a Jewish majority in the city.
But the Israeli transfer would not include the Old City and surrounding neighborhoods, Israeli officials say.
These are the key disputed areas, since the Old City contains the holiest site in Judaism, the Temple Mount, and the third holiest site in Islam, the Al Aqsa mosque compound.
"I agree that all the Palestinian neighborhoods except the Arab neighborhoods in the holy basin. would be transferred," Deputy Vice Premier Haim Ramon told Army Radio. Instead, he suggested a "special administration" to oversee the area.
He did not elaborate, but past talks have raised the idea of turning oversight to an international body.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat refused to comment on Ramon's proposal, but said there have been no agreements on Jerusalem in preliminary talks so far.
"We haven't started negotiations. It's premature to say anything about these issues," he said.
Olmert said he strongly backed the efforts to work out a deal.
Resistance to the Proposal
But not all Israelis agree on the proposal to hand control of any part of Jerusalem to the Palestinians.
Likud party chairman Binyamin Netanyahu, in an address at the Knesset, said the policy would lead to an Iranian terrorists in Jerusalem and perhaps even the rest of Israel.
"The unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon created an Iranian outpost - from which Israel is being attacked - in the North, and the unilateral pullout from Gaza created a second Iranian base in Gaza, 'Hamastan,'" Netanyahu said. "And now the government is planning a third withdrawal - from Judea and Samaria - that will lead to a third Iranian outpost."
"Olmert will place Hamas men on the walls of Jerusalem," Netanyahu warned. "Jerusalem will fast become a pilgrimage site for terrorists from all over the world."
In talks that began behind closed doors Monday, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were working on a document that would outline a joint vision for peace. The document is intended to be presented at the U.S.-sponsored Mideast peace conference at Annapolis, Md., in late November.
Ramon said the talks leading up to the conference are integral for future Israeli-Palestinian relations. If the negotiations do not bear fruit, it will strengthen the Hamas militant group in its power struggle with Abbas, he warned.
"If we miss this opportunity, and it becomes clear that we can't reach an agreement even with leaders like Abbas or Prime Minister Fayyad, this means we'll have to deal with Hamas," Ramon told Army Radio.
Sources: The Associated Press, Jerusalem Post