As Israel marks Jerusalem Day, the anniversary of the 1967 liberation of the eastern part of the city from Jordanian control, former prime minister Ehud Olmert said that no Israeli government has ever really tried to unify Jerusalem, not even the one that he headed for two years.
In an interview with the Hebrew daily Maariv published on Sunday, Olmert spoke of the inherent divisions within the capital and how they will ultimately make themselves felt in any final peace agreement.
“I reached very sad conclusions about the future of Jerusalem as a unified city when I saw that the Israeli government is not able, and perhaps unwilling, to invest in Jerusalem the resources needed so that the unification of the city will not just be a slogan, but a reality,” Olmert said. “No Israeli government since 1967 has even begun to do what is needed to really unify the city. That is a tragedy that will bring us to unavoidable political compromises.”
Olmert admitted that even during his term as prime minister between 2006 and 2008, not enough was done to make Jerusalem a unified city. Investments were made in the city’s western Jewish neighborhoods rather than in areas that he believes in the future will not be under Israeli control.
According to Olmert, Jerusalem has never been a homogeneous city in the way that it is often spoken of. Arab neighborhoods in east Jerusalem have no historical significance to the Jewish people, he said. Despite the impression given of a unified Jerusalem under Israeli control, the cultural and social differences between eastern and western neighborhoods continue to divide the city.
“We can’t unify with them and we can’t involve them in the true texture of life in Jerusalem, and apart from heartache we get nothing from them,” Olmert said of the eastern, predominantly Muslim neighborhoods. “It is impossible to talk about peace and to say we want peace and to not believe that it requires to break away from slogans that we have all used.”
Jerusalem will be at the center of any final peace deal, and there, too, there must be room for compromise, Olmert said.
“As far as the Old City is concerned we will have to arrive at arrangements — including on the Temple Mount — that will enable a peace agreement between us and the Palestinians. It is a hard, complicated thing, that requires extraordinary sensitivity, intelligence and restraint.”
Olmert said he could almost “touch the peace deal” that he nearly made in 2007-8, and claimed the problem was not that the Palestinians rejected his proposals.
“They didn’t accept them, and there is a difference,” he said. “They didn’t accept them because the negotiation hadn’t ended. It was on the verge of ending. If I had remained prime minister for another four to six months, I believe it would have been possible to reach an agreement. The gaps were small.”
He declined to elaborate on what it might take to bring the Palestinians to acceptance of a deal, but said it may still happen.
Olmert, who was mayor of Jerusalem for a decade between 1993 and 2003, said he has no doubts that if he had presented his proposals to the Israeli public the way he presented them to the Palestinians, the majority of the public would have agreed. Moreover, he said he believes that a final peace agreement will be based on the same principles that he offered. What is needed, he said, is the leadership to make it happen.
“Leadership, and especially one that wants to make a historic change, needs to know what is best for the people who chose it in order to take responsibility and make decisions,” he said. “When something is impossible, responsible leadership needs to recognize that, to adjust, to draw the necessary conclusions, shake off cheap popular policies and act with responsibility and gravity.”