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– Twenty-First Century Crusades?

Jerusalem again takes center stage
By Ryan Jones

As Israelis prepare to choose a new leader and the international community circles, waiting for the day after when it will unleash renewed pressure for the birth of a Palestinian Arab state, the future status of the divinely-chosen city of Jerusalem has again taken center stage.

"All leading candidates for the Israeli premiership vow they will never allow the city to be divided between Jewish and Arab states..."

All leading candidates for the Israeli premiership vow they will never allow the city to be divided between Jewish and Arab states, holding fast to the traditional position that a united Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel.

But cracks are beginning to show in that stand, at least as far as two candidates are concerned.

A storm erupted in Israel Tuesday evening after the US magazine Newsweek quoted Kalman Gayer, a senior adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, as saying that if the incumbent wins a third term, he will cede parts of eastern Jerusalem for the sake of a final status peace deal.

Sharon's office issued a statement Tuesday denying the claim.

However Finance Minister Ehud Olmert, the prime minister's top deputy and a man known for releasing “trial balloons” regarding future policy, has on more than one occasion stated Israel would eventually have to relinquish the dream of an eternally united Jerusalem under Jewish sovereignty.

In refuting the accusations, Sharon also insisted he remains committed to the internationally-backed Road Map peace plan, which he inferred guarantees a united Jerusalem under Israel's control.

The Road Map in fact does no such thing, and instead defers the issue to final status negotiations.

Senior Likud MK Uzi Landau pointed out that “from past experience we know that when the prime minister rushes to deny, things are certainly true.”

Sharon's Labor Party rival Amir Peretz has also gone on record as backing Israeli sovereignty over all of Jerusalem, but made clear last week his primary goal, if elected leader of the nation, will be to conclude a final peace agreement with the “Palestinians” within one year.

With both men's determination to be seen as Israel's ultimate peacemaker out in the open, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia reminded them Monday they would fail without serious concessions in the holy city.

There can be no “Palestinian” statehood and therefore no Middle East peace unless the eastern half of Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount, comes under Arab rule, Qureia told a gathering of European representatives.

The European Union recently clarified its position on Jerusalem in a still-unpublished report slamming Israeli activity and the imposition of Israeli law in the eastern half of the city, where several hundred thousand Jews live in the neighborhoods of Gilo, French Hill, Ramat Eshkol and others.

EU officials said they will refrain from releasing the report at this time in the run up to Israeli elections, though its contents are already known.

For its part, Israel's top ally the United States has never come out in support of Israel's biblical and historical claim to all of Jerusalem, and instead refers to the city as “disputed.”

The American consulate in Jerusalem does not print a country on official documents issued in the city, such as passports or birth certificates.

Many in Israel fear that as the “peace” process progresses, a combination of “Palestinian” intransigence, Western disregard for Israel's ancient rights, and a headlong rush by leftist leaders such as Peretz and Sharon to conclude a final peace deal at almost any cost means the division of Jerusalem may not be far off.

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