Ma'aleh Adumim Mayor: I Got Impression That Gov't Plans to Divide J'lem

Benny Kashriel tells Haaretz after secret tour with FM, his city will fight rumored division plan.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Wednesday secretly toured the E-1 area between the settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim and Jerusalem, where a plan for the construction of large Jewish neighborhood has been frozen for several years, at the behest of the United States.

Livni toured the area accompanied by Ma'aleh Adumim Mayor Benny Kashriel, who later said he got the impression that the government was planning to divide Jerusalem.

The tour took place as part of a process of ongoing negotiations over the borders of a future Palestinian state. Israel wants to keep the Adumim settlement bloc inside its territory in a final peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Livni refrained from promising Kashriel that the construction plan will be unfrozen, but stressed that the issue is up for discussion.

During their tour, Livni refused to answer Kashriel's inquiries regarding rumored government plans to divide Jerusalem within the framework of a future peace agreement with the Palestinians. She said "Israel is doing its best to achieve success in negotiations with the Palestinians."

Kashriel said to Haaretz on Thursday that Livni's visit left him with the impression that Israel is planning to divide Jerusalem and compensate the Jewish public by annexing the Adumim settlement bloc and other similar blocs near Jerusalem, like Givat Ze'ev and western Gush Etzion.

"This is the terrible old plan originally devised by [Former Meretz Chairman Yossi] Beilin, to remove Arab neighborhoods from Jerusalem and instead add to it the large Jewish communities surrounding it, which are outside the city's jurisdiction," Kashriel said. He explained that Livni didn't say these things specifically during their tour, but "that is the impression I got, and I am known to be very perceptive."

Kashriel went on to say the "we will not serve as the government's fig leaf for negotiating over the fate of Jerusalem. We won't agree to be the reward for the division of Jerusalem and we will fight it with all our might."

The Ma'aleh Adumim mayor added that the frozen construction plan in the E-1 territory must immediately be unfrozen, citing the importance of a Jewish neighborhood connecting his city to Jerusalem.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said several months ago in a closed meeting that Israel had made it clear to the U.S. that eventually, Israel will build in the E-1 territory and added that any construction would have to be "done with the U.S.'s consent."

The E-1 territory is the subject of much contention between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel wants to use it to connect Jerusalem to Ma'aleh Adumim, where some 32,000 people currently reside. The Palestinians, on the other hand, want to use the territory to create a continuity of Palestinian land from north to south ? starting in Ramallah toward Bethlehem.

The Israeli construction plan in E-1 encompasses some 12,000 dunams and includes 3,500 apartment units in three sub-neighborhoods, as well as a police headquarters, tourist resort and an industrial and commerce center that would supply jobs to thousands of Israelis and Palestinians.