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Last update - 07:44 31/01/2007

Demographer: Israel should relinquish Palestinian areas of Jerusalem

By Nadav Shragai, Haaretz Correspondent

Demography Professor Sergio DellaPergola, a member of research teams that prepared the Jerusalem Master Plan, commissioned by the Cabinet, and the Strategic Master Plan, commissioned by the Jerusalem Municipality, believes that it would be wise to "relinquish parts of the city's territory in which mainly Palestinian residents live."

DellaPergola wrote this in an article slated to appear in the coming months in a book to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the city's reunification, published by the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies. In the article, he stresses that his statements are based on demographic considerations and the forecast of an additional decrease in the Jewish majority by 2020.

Since the Six-Day War in 1967, the Jewish share of the capital's population dropped from 73.5 percent to 66 percent. The current forecast predicts that, in another 14 years, Jerusalem's Jewish majority will dwindle to 60 percent. DellaPergola's advice is to expand the city to include unsettled and settled areas to the West, so that the exodus from the capital's center will remain within city limits.

Until now, those who endorsed plans to remove Arab neighborhoods and Palestinian residents from the city limits were mainly leftist politicians and policymakers, who considered this to be a solution to demographic and political problems.

The most conspicuous such plan was proposed by Ehud Barak's cabinet at Camp David in 2000. Barak agreed to a sweeping plan: Division of Jerusalem, as outlined by Clinton, such that every area in which Jews live would remain in Israel, and nearly every area in which Palestinians live would be transferred to the Palestinian Authority. Barak was also prepared to divide the Old City and sovereignty over the Temple Mount, but Yasser Arafat rejected the proposal.

DellaPergola, considered a leading demographic authority, told Haaretz on Tuesday that he supports relinquishing most of the Arab population, including those who reside in Jerusalem's northern neighborhoods, Beit Hanina and Shoafat. However, he believes that Israel should strive to achieve a solution based on a Vatican model in the Old City and the Holy Basin. "In that area," DellaPergola suggests, "another state will be established that is neither Israel nor Palestine, like the Vatican in Italy."

The municipality, which employed DellaPergola in the past, and Israel's current government do not support the division of Jerusalem for demographic or other reasons. In practice, a few Arab, North Jerusalem neighborhoods in which tens of thousands of Palestinians live were already placed beyond the "Jerusalem Envelope" section of the separation fence.

Right-wing parties also vehemently oppose division and demand that measures be taken to minimize Jewish emigration from Jerusalem and to attract Jews to the city.

In contrast with DellaPergola's position, an American-Israeli research team led by Bennett Zimmerman, Dr. Roberta Seid, Michael Wise and Yoram Ettinger proposed that Israeli policymakers alter their approach to Jerusalem demographics by annexing areas to the east rather than the west of the city, despite the fact that this would mean annexing a Palestinian population. The team maintains that, "Avoiding expanding the city's territory, due to demographic concerns, will increase the housing and employment burden and accelerate negative migration out of Jerusalem."

That team re-examines research conducted by the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, indicating that the problem is negative migration of Jews from Jerusalem, resulting mainly from a lack of housing and employment. The team maintains that these problems derive from the lack of space for traffic infrastructure essential to upgrade housing and employment conditions.

An appropriate addition of land requires the city's territory to be doubled, according to the research team. The researchers note that annexing areas in the direction of Ma'aleh Adumim, Givat Ze'ev, and Gush Etzion would increase the Arab population in Jerusalem by about 100,000 residents, but the Jewish population would grow by tens of thousands of residents, due to annexation of Jewish populations on the city's periphery. Annexing territory to increase the size of the capital would increase the number of Arab residents in the initial phase, but it would significantly decrease Jewish emigration from Jerusalem. In the next phase, the city would become attractive to Jews, thus restoring the demographic balance.