Israel’s deputy foreign minister intimated Friday that Israel would be prepared to cede sovereignty over Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, which it annexed after capturing the area from Jordan in the 1967 war, as part of a permanent accord with the Palestinians.
Tzachi Hanegbi, a Likud party colleague and close confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was speaking three days after two Palestinian terrorists from one such neighborhood, Jabel Mukaber, killed four Jews at prayer and a traffic cop in an attack on a synagogue in the Har Nof neighborhood of west Jerusalem. East Jerusalem’s Arab residents generally have Israeli papers that enable them to travel freely about the city, although some checkpoints have been placed in Arab areas since Tuesday’s attack.
Asked whether he would insist on retaining all East Jerusalem Arab neighborhoods if he were prime minister, Hanegbi told Israel’s Channel 2 TV that when his grandparents had prayed to Jerusalem decades ago, they were thinking of “the Western Wall and the Temple Mount, and not Issawiya” — an East Jerusalem Arab neighborhood.
“In a permanent accord, a creative solution can be found for the Arab neighborhoods,” he said.
Netanyahu has always insisted on retaining Israeli sovereignty throughout “united Jerusalem,” though one of his predecessors, Ehud Olmert, offered to divide the city into Israeli and Palestinian sovereign areas, and to relinquish sovereignty in the Old City in favor of a non-sovereign, multi-nation trusteeship. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who seeks control of East Jerusalem and the Old City as the capital of a Palestinian state, did not accept the Olmert offer.
Some Arab neighborhoods within the city limits are situated on the far side of the security barrier that Israel built in recent years to prevent suicide bombers entering Israel from the West Bank. An Army Radio random series of interviews with Knesset members this week underlined that many Israeli legislators have no idea where some of the city’s Arab neighborhoods are.
Jerusalem’s Mayor Nir Barkat earlier Friday spoke out against dividing the city. At the same time, he said he had not entered Shuafat refugee camp — an area particularly hostile to Israel that lies within Israel’s declared Jerusalem municipal borders, and from where a terrorist in another recent attack in Jerusalem set out. The solution was “not to run away” but to bolster security in the city, Barkat said.
On Wednesday, Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin said that over the decades since the 1967 war, Palestinian and Israeli life in the city have become intertwined, and both sides have no choice but to work together in order to advance peace and promote dialogue in the city.
“Jewish and Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem are interlaced one with the other. We have passed the point of no return. We are now in a situation where we all live together. Building and dividing Jerusalem in an artificial manner will not help,” Rivlin said.
Rivlin added: “Palestinians who are not Israeli citizens and Arabs who are the citizens of Israel and the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem have to realize, we are meant to live together in this city.”
Channel 2 on Friday night showed figures indicating that, in 1967, the population of Jerusalem was 75% Jewish and 25% Arab, and in 2013 had shifted to 63% Jewish and 37% Arab.