Jerusalem's eyes focus on an unseen border

October 19, 1990|By Robert Ruby | Robert Ruby,Jerusalem Bureau of The Sun

JERUSALEM -- In their latest dispute over the building of new Jewish settlements, Israel and the United States have focused attention on a border that remains crystal clear in international diplomacy despite Israel's concerted efforts to erase it on the ground.

In recent weeks Secretary of State James A. Baker III and Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy have given new importance to the Green Line, the border dividing Israel from the territories it

captured in the 1967 Six Day War, specifically where it divides the city of Jerusalem.

It is a border that is not usually marked by any physical barrier but that is almost always noticeable psychologically. It is the dividing line between land that the United States and other major powers recognize as unquestionably Israel and territory whose final status is still to be determined.

Tens of thousands of people -- Israeli and Palestinian -- drive, walk or ride across it every day without ever seeing a formal acknowledgment that it is there. It goes unmarked on Israeli maps, but it is known in some sense to every resident.

Israel's doves brag how many months it has been since they have crossed it. Hawks brag of living on the other side, in $H settlements that they consider to be as much a part of Israel as is Tel Aviv.

On one side is Israel and the land it secured during its war for independence in 1948. On the other side are the Golan Heights, captured from Syria; the Gaza Strip, captured from Egypt; and the West Bank, the bulge of land taken from Jordan.

On that far side is also East Jerusalem, the smallest parcel in geographic size but by far the most important in the region's religions and in its politics.

The Green Line once separated the city into eastern and western halves. Before 1967, Israel controlled West Jerusalem. Jordan had custody of East Jerusalem, including the walled Old City and, within it, sites considered holy by Moslems, Christians and Jews.

Since 1967, Israel has surrounded the eastern, Arab portion with a ring of Jewish suburbs to gradually make the city into a doughnut with an ever-expanding Israeli rim around a small Arab center. In the process, the government has made large strides toward erasing the physical signs of the Green Line.

Mr. Baker and Mr. Levy refocused attention on the old border when they negotiated an agreement for U.S. loan guarantees.

The Bush administration promised to guarantee up to $400 million in loans to help Israel build housing for a flood of Soviet Jews. Mr. Levy pledged in return, in a letter dated Oct. 2, that none of the loans would be used for construction over the Green Line.

Last weekend, Housing Minister Ariel Sharon declared that he reserved to right to build anywhere in Jerusalem. In other words, the Green Line had disappeared in the city that Israel insists has been unified and cannot be redivided.

A special housing and immigration cabinet headed by Mr. Sharon backed up his words by approving plans to build 15,000 housing units for immigrants in Jerusalem over the next three years.

At least two-thirds of those units would be in suburbs over the Green Line.

Mr. Baker has said that he expects Mr. Levy to live up to his commitment not to build housing there and that the government understood very well where the line was.

Israeli officials suggest they have not given up trying to argue that the line is different from how it has always been understood, that it somehow disappears in Jerusalem.An aide to Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir,as quoted in the Israeli press,said Mr.Levy and the government" indeed made a mistake."

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