Netanyahu Nixes Proposal to Wall Off Jerusalem's Arab Areas

  • Elkin says Palestinian attackers should be confronted directly
  • Police have set up temporary wall at one Jerusalem flashpoint

A Palestinian man walks past a part of a wall put in place by Israeli officials to separate the Palestinian neighborhood from the Jewish settlement in east Jerusalem.

Photographer: Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected a controversial proposal to set up barriers between some Arab and Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem following opposition from some of his ministers.

Barriers would be counterproductive and may create a false impression that the neighborhoods may eventually be ceded to the Palestinian Authority, Immigration and Absorption Minister Ze’ev Elkin said Monday in an interview with Israeli Radio. The plan had been seen as a way to boost security for Israelis amid multiple stabbings and shootings that have killed five people and wounded more than 30 in the city this month.

“Experience shows that in the end, walls harm the security of those Israelis on the other side of the wall,” Elkin said. “The security solution is not a wall, the security solution is to go into the neighborhoods and confront the attackers there and stop them.”

The issue is politically sensitive in Jerusalem, which was divided for 19 years along cease-fire lines following the Israeli War of Independence in 1948. Jordan ruled the eastern side of the city until Israel won the area in the 1967 war. Palestinians seek it as the capital of an independent state, while Israel opposes dividing the city again.

The Israeli government “is trying to preserve the unity of Jerusalem under its sovereignty, so setting up security barriers within its borders could erode that perception of unity by practically separating the city along national, ethnic lines,” said Jonathan Rynhold, a researcher at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar- Ilan University near Tel Aviv. In contrast, concrete walls Israel erected a decade ago against suicide bombers skirt Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries, Rynhold said.

Eight Israelis have been killed this month by Arabs attacking with knives, guns and cars. About 45 Arabs have been killed by Israeli fire, including some involved in attacks on Israelis and others in confrontations with Israeli troops.

In the most recent attack on Sunday, an Israeli-Arab Bedouin opened fire at the central bus station in the southern city of Beersheba, killing one soldier before being shot by police. An Eritrean worker was also killed during the incident by Israelis who shot and beat him, mistaking him for another Arab attacker.

Elkin said that while he opposes barriers, he does support the use of concrete blocks to slow traffic in Arab neighborhoods to check cars.

Temporary Barrier

Police officials have said a temporary barrier between the Arab neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber and the Jewish neighborhood of Armon Hanatziv is in place to block Arabs from hurling stones and firebombs at Jewish homes. The 300-meter structure is made of a series of free-standing concrete slabs, each about 10 meters tall and marked ‘Temporary portable police barricade.’

“This has no political meaning,” Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahson said. “It’s one more aspect of our security measures.”

Elkin said the barrier will remain in place for now, while police look for an alternative solution.

The violence has spurred international efforts to defuse the enmity between Israel and the Palestinians. France said last week it would circulate a draft plan to place international observers at a Jerusalem shrine, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, that has become a flashpoint for the tensions.

Israel rejected the idea, and on Monday summoned the French ambassador for what the Foreign Ministry called a “pointed” discussion. Israeli officials expressed their “sharp opposition” to the French plan, or any other proposal not crafted in coordination with the Israeli government, the ministry said.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he will meet Netanyahu when the Israeli leader travels to Germany on Wednesday to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and will hold talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the Middle East later this week.

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