Likud officials on Monday called for Shas and Yisrael Beitenu to immediately withdraw from the coalition in response to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's "declared intention" to divide Jerusalem.
The prime minister, along with Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu party, is known to support relinquishing "fringe neighborhoods" in the eastern part of Jerusalem. Shas, by contrast, has made it clear that should the question of Jerusalem's unity come up for discussion, the coalition's survivability would be far from certain.
Earlier Monday, Olmert questioned whether Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem should be defined as part of Israel's capital.
"Was it necessary to include Shuafat refugee camp, Arab al-Suwahara and Walajeh as part of Jerusalem? I admit, there are some legitimate questions to be asked about that," Olmert told the Knesset plenum in Jerusalem, during a commemorative session for slain minister Rehavam Ze'evi, who was assassinated six years ago.
Olmert's words, which hinted that Israel may be willing to divide the hotly-disputed city, comprised the first formal statement on the subject. Olmert's reference was made against the backdrop of a heated discussion within the ranks of his party, Kadima, on the question of dividing Jerusalem.
Olmert's deputy, Haim Ramon, recently advocated dividing Jerusalem in accordance with former U.S. president Bill Clinton's plan for the capital. Clinton's plan would put the Old City and the Temple Mount, along with other areas which are inhabited by Arabs, under Palestinian control. Furthermore, the plan proposes to allow the Palestinian Authority to declare the areas under its control in Jerusalem as its capital.
However, a group of Kadima members, headed by Otniel Schneller, is opposed to such a move. They advocate adhering to the party's agenda, which calls for Jerusalem's unity.
Olmert has so far refrained from commenting on Ramon's plan, but sources close to the prime minister said he supports some of these blueprints.
In the past, Olmert had adamantly opposed plans to divide Jerusalem. When the subject came up during the 2000 Camp David summit, Olmert led a mass march of some 350,000 protesters against the plan to divide the city.
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