Pulling Out - in Jerusalem, Too

The four reasons why Israel should disengage from East Jerusalem are surprisingly similar to its reasons for disengaging from the Gaza Strip.

On the Friday when the late Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat was buried in the courtyard of the Muqata, the media reported that because of the fear of riots, the Israeli government had decided to close the Temple Mount mosques to residents of the territories. From this prohibition it could have been understood that on an ordinary holiday, masses of Arabs from Ramallah and from Hebron are allowed to come to Jerusalem to pray at the holy site. And the listener will wonder: If the gates of Jerusalem (which is an Israeli and united city, as we know) are regularly open to the residents of the territories, what are those ugly separation fences that surround East Jerusalem? And, on the contrary: If the capital is wide open, why do the city's Arabs need the permission of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to vote at the polls in Abu Dis?

It is probably convenient for the prime minister to have his foreign minister present the granting of permission to the residents of Anata to participate in the Palestinian Authority elections as a danger to Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem. The world will see how generous Sharon is. Not only is he suffering from the separation from one and a half million Gazans, and from four settlements in the northern West Bank that are stuck like a bone in the throat of the Israel Defense Forces. For the sake of the democratization of the Middle East, he is even willing to undermine the holy of holies - Israeli sovereignty in Isawiyah, and the integrity of the Shuafat refugee camp.

Yasser Arafat did not have the privilege of being buried in Jerusalem. When his successor, who will probably be Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), speaks of "Arafat's heritage," he is not referring to permission for Jerusalem's Arabs to vote in Abu Dis. Abu Mazen's style differs from that of Arafat.

He will not utter pearls of wisdom such as "one million shaheeds [Islamic martyrs] in Jerusalem." However, a unification one day of East Jerusalem and the West Bank will not satisfy even one-eighth of the appetite of the Palestinian leadership that will be elected on January 9, no matter how pragmatic this leadership may be. A Palestinian leader who surrenders Palestinian interests in Jerusalem will not last long, which is unfortunate, politically speaking.

A short tour of East Jerusalem, along the concrete walls, reveals that when the myths and the hollow slogans are sifted out, Israeli and Palestinian interests are not so far apart. What interest does Israel have in ruling over 230,000 Palestinians, most of whom are separated only by an arbitrary municipal boundary - in 1967, East Jerusalem was "expanded" from 6 to 17 square kilometers - from their brothers on the other side of the wall (55,000 of whom live outside the route of the fence, and another 40,000 of whom are "Jerusalemites" with blue Israeli ID cards, who also live outside the municipal boundary)? What interest do Israeli citizens have in paying hundreds of millions of shekels, over 37 years, for national insurance for families who have no connection at all with Israeli identity?

The four reasons why Israel should disengage from East Jerusalem are surprisingly similar to its reasons for disengaging from the Gaza Strip:

l Occupation: Sharon's diagnosis regarding the residents of Gaza and the northern West Bank, who are living under foreign occupation that cannot continue forever, is also true of the residents of East Jerusalem.

l Security: Imposing the artificial separation from the Palestinian state-in- the-making, including centers of social services, education and culture, is liable to increase the motivation of young East Jerusalemites to harm Israel.

l Demography: According to the forecast of Jerusalem demographer Prof. Sergio Della Pergola, in 2020 the number of Arabs in Jerusalem will reach 358,000, and the percentage of the Israeli population in the city will decline to 62 percent (as compared to 84 percent in the peak year - 1972).

l Economy: In order to change the term "united Jerusalem" from a slogan into reality, it will be necessary to distance the poverty line in East Jerusalem from the level in Gaza, and to bring it closer to the poverty line in Israel, at the least. The budgets required for that will lead to a lengthening of the lines at the soup kitchens on the western side of the poorest city in Israel.

What do we really gain from "sovereignty" in "united" Jerusalem? For the first time in many years, even the candidates for the U.S. presidency stopped promising to move the embassy to Jerusalem, a neglected capital that is not recognized even by its best friend, and that is being abandoned by its best sons.