Jerusalem: Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday urged Israeli leaders to relinquish the idea of a unified Jerusalem if they truly want peace, contending in a pair of interviews that years of government neglect have kept the Jewish and Arab sectors irreparably divided.
The comments, made as Israel marked the 45th anniversary of capturing east Jerusalem, were nearly unprecedented for a mainstream Israeli leader and put Olmert at odds with his successor, Benjamin Netanyahu. Celebrating Israel`s control of Jerusalem, Netanyahu declared his government was committed to keeping the entire city Israel`s undivided capital.
"No Israeli government since 1967 has done even a smidgen of what was needed in order to unify the city in practical terms. That is a tragedy that is going to lead us, for want of another choice, to making inevitable political concessions," Olmert told the Maariv daily.
Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war and immediately annexed the area, home to sensitive Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy sites as well as a large Arab population. The Palestinians hope to make east Jerusalem the capital of an independent state including the neighboring West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Olmert said the notion of a united Holy City is unrealistic. He pointed to a number of Arab neighborhoods in east Jerusalem, saying they have not been integrated into the rest of the city.
"We can`t unite them and connect them to the real fabric of life in Jerusalem, and except for grief, we haven`t gotten anything from them," he said.
Olmert went through a dramatic political transformation late in his career.
As mayor from 1993 to 2003, he was an outspoken hard-liner opposed to concessions to the Palestinians. Then, while prime minister from 2006 to 2009, he pursued a peace agreement envisioning broad territorial concessions to the Palestinians before a corruption case forced him to step down.