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Jerusalem Is Not Negotiable --It Will Be Israel’s Forever : Mideast: The U.S. suggestion that negotiators save the city’s status for last ignores Israeli adamancy on this issue.

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<i> Ehud Olmert, a member of Israel's Parliament and former Cabinet minister under the Likud government, is a candidate for mayor of Jerusalem. </i>

Twenty-five minutes. That’s all it takes to go from Jerusalem to Jericho.

When Foreign Minister Shimon Peres sat down with Secretary of State Warren Christopher recently, it was to explain a new policy dubbed “Gaza-Jericho first,” in which Israel is to grant some Palestinian autonomy in those two areas.

For Americans accustomed to vast distances, it should come as a frightening realization that Yasser Arafat, a man who has long wielded terrorism against Israel and the United States, is considering moving into a house in Jericho--25 minutes away from our Parliament.

The incorrect premise we’re hearing these days is that if Gaza and Jericho are dealt with first, everything else will fall or be pushed into place until the sticky issue of Jerusalem is reached--last. The flaw is the misperception that the fate of Jerusalem is somehow negotiable. Ask any schoolchild in Israel, and the answer will be firm, clear and simple: Jerusalem will be the united capital of the state of Israel forever, for as long as the Star of David flutters over our hard-won sovereign state--and that should be a pretty good spell.

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Christopher has perhaps judiciously advised the parties to the peace talks to save Jerusalem for last. That is also the position of the Rabin government. The State Department and other friends and outsiders might believe that this tactic makes sense as a negotiating stratagem.

I speak for most Israelis--well over 90%, according to polls--when I say that it ultimately does not matter. We can either start with Jerusalem or conclude with it. The result will be the same or there will be no result: Jerusalem will be ours.

For 19 horrid years, Jordanians and Palestinians controlled part of our capital city, the so-called Old City and environs of East Jerusalem. From the outset in 1948, every Jew who survived the onslaught was summarily expelled. Their property was seized. The many historic synagogues of the walled enclave were gutted, trashed, some turned into makeshift barns. The most famous Jewish cemetery in the world, on the Mount of Olives, was randomly plowed under and built over. The ghastly photos of gravestones turned into latrines for occupying Jordanian troops are still seared irrevocably in our consciousness. East Jerusalem became our Judenrein.

Other non-Muslims fared little better. Christian children were compelled to spend long hours every day learning about the Islamic religion, and the Christian populace of the Jordanian-controlled sector was decimated by emigration.

Jordanian snipers wantonly fired from the walls into civilian West Jerusalem. Bullet holes still adorn buildings in what was then no-man’s-land, scant yards away from City Hall, silent testimony to the Arab concept of rule in the holy city.

In stark contrast to places bearing the ignominious names of Belfast, Beirut and Sarajevo, Jerusalem for 26 years has been a paradigm of freedom and guaranteed rights for all. Tourists roam everywhere, greenery abounds, new roads are helping to ease the traffic congestion and Jews and Arabs coexist, albeit separately. It’s the best that can be hoped for. Much needs to be done still, but the foundation is firmly in place.

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During this time, the facts on the ground have been changed, largely through the smart planning and hard work of the Likud-led government that guided Israel from 1977 until last summer. Today, Jerusalem is a city with an unshakable Jewish majority. The new neighborhoods of Gilo, Ramot and others now claim no less than 160,000 Jewish residents among a total of nearly 400,000 Jews in the capital. Palestinian Arabs in these areas account for about 155,000. Yet another 40,000 Jews live in surrounding suburbs, all within 15 minutes or so by car. Most of these people have sunk their roots in the past 15 years.

The negotiators in Washington may discuss Jerusalem now or discuss it later. But they dare not suggest that we return to the living hell that preceded 1967. There remains perhaps but one overwhelming consensus in Israeli politics today, and that is an unequivocal truth that cannot be chipped away at or watered down by semantics: Jerusalem will remain a city with a clear Jewish majority and under Israeli sovereignty forever.

Anyone who will not or cannot understand this bedrock reality is doomed to fail in facilitating peace in the Middle East.

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