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Today's capital of Israel, Jerusalem was the center of Jewish life during the First and Second Temple periods and the focal point of Jewish yearning for Zion after exile by the Romans in 70 C.E. Israel established Jerusalem as its capital in December 1949, and on January 1, 1950 transferred the entire government to the then-divided city.

Jerusalem's Heart - The Dome of the Rock sits atop the site of the first and second Jewish Temples. The "Western Wall" is the western retaining wall of King Herod's enormous Temple Mount plaza.

Jerusalem's Heart - The Dome of the Rock sits atop the site of the first and second Jewish Temples. The "Western Wall" is the western retaining wall of King Herod's enormous Temple Mount plaza.

In the 1967 Six Day War, Jerusalem was captured after the Jordanians entered the war on the side of Egypt and Syria. Jerusalem's reunification was an epic event in Israeli history and - for the first time since 1948 - Jews were allowed access to their holiest site, the Western Wall. Israel moved to unify the city under one municipality while safeguarding the religious rights and shrines of all denominations. In addition, Israel cleared and reconstructed much of the historic Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City and built new neighborhoods throughout the unified city.

Political Parties and Jerusalem

Until Ehud Barak's surprising offer in the summer of 2000 to effectively divide Jerusalem, Israeli parties (except the Arab factions) talked of an undivided Jerusalem as the "eternal capital of Israel." Barak's move broke the taboo surrounding the city's division allowing more open and practical discussions about its future.

Throughout the current election campaign the leaders of all three major parties (Kadima, Labor & Likud) have stated unequivocally that Jerusalem will not be divided under any circumstances. However, there have also been numerous 'unnamed sources' who have leaked information about plans to divide Jerusalem in the framework of a negotiated peace agreement with the Palestinians. Any division may be more reflective of municipal responsibilities rather than a physical border, but it is clear that the issue remains open for debate should negotiations for a permanent peace agreement be undertaken.

Historically, Labor and the Left have been willing to consider re-dividing Jerusalem under the auspices of a comprehensive peace deal while the Likud and other conservative parties object to the division of Jerusalem. The main argument against dividing the capital is that only under Israeli rule has the freedom of religion been respected for all - Jews, Christians and Moslems. These parties cite the desecration of Joseph's Tomb in 2000, the ongoing unauthorized and archeologically-catastrophic construction programs carried out under the auspices of the Moslem Waqf under the Temple Mount and the seizure of the Church of Nativity in May 2002 by fleeing Palestinian terrorists as evidence of what to expect when religious shrines are entrusted to the current Palestinian leadership.

Religious parties tend to agree with the Likud analysis and argue additionally that the unique spiritual and historic connection between Jews and Jerusalem is reason enough to maintain sovereignty over the city and its myriad of religious shrines.

Interestingly, not all Arab residents of Jerusalem are in favor of dividing the city. Prior to the last elections in 2003, a group spoke out forcefully against dividing the city and allowing Palestinian Authority (now being led by Hamas) to take control of some east Jerusalem neighborhoods. The leader of that group, Zuheir Hamdan, a mukhtar from the Sur Baher neighborhood said at the time, "It's strange to see that many Israelis haven't drawn the lessons from the events of the last two years. An Israeli withdrawal [from east Jerusalem] would bring all the gunmen of Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Popular Front to Damascus Gate, Mount Scopus and Mount of Olives. They will turn Jerusalem into Gaza."