Jerusalem's mayor sees no end to conflict

Olmert claims Arafat `does not want peace'

May 17, 2001|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

The Israeli mayor of Jerusalem called the escalating violence between Israelis and Palestinians a state of war that he believes will continue in deadly spurts for another decade.

"It's not going to end," Mayor Ehud Olmert, a leader of the ruling right-wing Likud bloc, said during a meeting with The Sun's editorial board yesterday. "Two sides have to want to end it. One side does not want to end it."

Olmert placed full blame for the violence on Yasser Arafat, saying the Palestinian leader "does not want peace."

The mayor of eight years - here to speak to the Baltimore Zionist District - vehemently defended Israeli army tactics that have been criticized by the United States as disproportionate responses to the Palestinian uprising. The lanky leader often leaned across a conference room table and shook his finger to drive home his point.

At least 425 Palestinians, 80 Israelis and 13 Israeli Arabs have been killed since the violence began last September. "So what?" he said when he was asked about the difference in numbers. "We are the ones who are suffering first and foremost. We have the most to lose."

Olmert, the second Israeli mayor of Jerusalem since Israel drove out the Jordanian army in 1967, said he was visiting Baltimore and New York to reaffirm that "Jerusalem is going to remain the undivided capital of the state of Israel and the Jewish people." The United States and many other countries do not recognize Jerusalem as the sovereign Israeli capital, and keep embassies in Tel Aviv.

Olmert took pains to portray Jerusalem as safe. He said violence that has consumed the West Bank and Gaza has rarely directly affected his city, which he said has suffered because of what he called exaggerated media reports. Jerusalem has lost more than $800 million in revenue because of empty hotel rooms and restaurants.

"It is hard to convince people that it is quite safe in Jerusalem," Olmert said. "Watch the news. There is violence, riots, people are killed, explosions, Israeli choppers and tanks. But where? Not in the center of Jerusalem. Not in the city itself."

Five Palestinians have been killed by Israelis in East Jerusalem, all on the first day of the uprising last September. Of the 28 Israeli civilians killed by Palestinians, one was in an industrial area of East Jerusalem.

This month, a pipe bomb exploded outside the Old City's Jaffa Gate, injuring two Polish tourists.

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