Standing at a large, detailed map of the city hanging on the wall, he points to the contiguous neighborhoods of Pisgat Ze'ev and Neve Ya'akov in the northeast corner of the city. Because they are east of the Palestinian areas of Shu'afat and Beit Hanina, he says, they would be cut off from the rest of Jewish Jerusalem if the city were divided. They would end up as an Israeli island floating in a hostile Palestinian sea.
"When I pointed this out to Barak, he suddenly started talking about high-tech solutions, bridges and tunnels, and new roads. All the things he dismissed when they were offered as a way to keep the settlements."
What Olmert doesn't mention is that these Jewish neighborhoods were purposely built in these locations to try to sever the Palestinian neighborhoods from the rest of the West Bank. This kind of urban-planning strategy, which has been used repeatedly since 1967, has pushed the city's boundaries farther and farther into the West Bank, and has completely backfired for the Israelis.
"In the euphoria after the '67 War, we annexed 70 square kilometers of the West Bank around Jerusalem," says Amirav. "Not only the Old City but 28 villages as well. We thought we could shape the Middle East. We thought we could make Jerusalem homogeneous. But what we actually did was nearly double the number of Palestinians within the city. We gave them blue identity cards and government benefits. We made East Jerusalem the capital of the West Bank. We created an economic base for them. When Jordan controlled the territories, Jerusalem was a minor city. More Palestinians were leaving than coming. The major centers for them were Ramallah and Nablus."
There is one critical area where Olmert and Amirav overlap, though they draw very different conclusions. Both men believe the treatment of Palestinians in Jerusalem since the '67 War has been badly mishandled. Olmert, however, believes it is still possible to rectify what's been done (or what hasn't been done) and keep the city united.
"We need to do what I've been preaching to all Israeli governments," says Olmert, "and that is to treat the residents of East Jerusalem as they deserve to be treated, as our partners. Let's invest in their quality of life, and let's make the East side of the city equal in every aspect. It's never been tried. The money has to come from the government, and Arik Sharon has promised me he will be helpful."
This is the received wisdom of the right: Give the Palestinian residents a greater stake in the city, and full assimilation is possible. Or, more precisely, assimilation that is at least the equivalent of what has been achieved with Israel's other Arab citizens.
On Election Day in Israel eight weeks ago, on street corners all around the city, groups of young people in red-white-and-blue Sharon T-shirts were waving banners and giving out bumper stickers that read: only sharon will keep jerusalem. Sharon has what is essentially a two-track plan to keep all of the city as the Israeli capital.
The first part, as articulated by Olmert, is to try to make the Palestinian residents partners. But while it is indisputable that most of Jerusalem's Palestinians want no part of the Palestinian Authority, which they see as corrupt and inept, it is woefully unrealistic at this point to believe they can be seduced into living happily under Israeli rule.
The second half of the strategy is to stem Jewish flight from the city and entice more Jews to move to Jerusalem by offering them incentives and building new housing. A smaller piece of this effort is to aggressively assert Jewish sovereignty over the entire city by having Jews buy real estate and move into Palestinian neighborhoods (this is viewed by many Israelis and Palestinians as a naked provocation). There are, for example, 25 Jewish families living among more than 5,000 Palestinians in Silwan, a neighborhood just outside the Old City's walls. Sharon himself, of course, maintains an apartment in the Muslim quarter of the Old City.
"I admit that it's late, but it's not too late," the mayor says. "And I'm not going to tell you it's not a battle. It's the most complex city in the world. But that doesn't mean the city has to go in a particular direction because it fits a certain political strategy. And as far as having a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem is concerned," Olmert says, getting up to put on his jacket, "Arik can say to them, 'Hey, look, guys, you were offered Jerusalem. I disagreed with it. Olmert disagreed with it. But Barak offered it to you with all the neighborhoods and the Temple Mount and the Old City. And were you ready to sign a peace treaty? You were not. So Jerusalem was not the obstacle.' "
As he heads out the door for an early-evening appointment, he stops and adds: "So now that peace seems not to be around the corner, dividing the city is not a relevant question, and I'm ready to do what most Arabs of East Jerusalem want: to build a foundation of peaceful co-existence by investing in their needs."
On the morning after Ariel Sharon's stunning victory in February, Avraham Burg, the Speaker of the Knesset, stood at the top of some stairs leading down to the broad plaza in front of the Western Wall. It was unusually quiet at the Wall that morning. Under a dark sky, bored-looking Israeli soldiers and police casually kept an eye on the scene as a handful of men, lost in prayer and, judging by their ultra-Orthodox frocks, lost in time as well, rocked languorously back and forth in front of the holy shrine.
"Look at this," said Burg, an observant Jew who got his start in politics eighteen years ago protesting the war in Lebanon. "Stand right here and look around. What do you see? You see the Western Wall, the Temple Mount, the Mosque of Omar the Dome of the Rock, Al Aqsa, and the Jewish Quarter."
From the vantage point he had chosen, both the Wall and the mosques were essentially at eye level, making it possible in one snapshot to actually feel the claustrophobic nature of the conflict. "This," Burg said, moving his outstretched hand slowly from left to right to take in the entire tableau, "this is the heart of it. This is where the heart of the conflict beats."