Contrary to denials by top Israeli officials, the future of Jerusalem is being discussed in top-level negotiations between Israel and Palestinian Authority officials. So says Abu Ala, who heads the PA's negotiating team with Israel.
Ahmed Qurei, also known as Abu Ala, told the Al-Quds newspaper in eastern Jerusalem over the weekend that the talks are "difficult," and include all the issues in dispute. These include: Jerusalem; the future of the "refugees"- those Arabs who left Israel in 1948 and 1967, as well as their millions of descendants; borders; Jewish towns in Judea and Samaria; and security.
Abu Ala said he does not know of any secret channels of negotiations.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has often said that Jerusalem is not being discussed at present, and that it will be left for a later stage of talks. The Shas party has said stated that it would quit the government coalition if it learned that Jerusalem was on the table. The departure of Shas would topple the government, for all intents and purposes.
Abu Ala's revelation is not the first one of its sort. Even Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has admitted that Jerusalem was being discussed. Speaking with foreign diplomats in early February, Livni said that all the core issues, including Jerusalem, were being discussed with the PA, and admitted that this was in contradiction to the promise Olmert gave the Shas party a few days earlier.
Yisrael Beiteinu Quit, Shas Still In
In addition, four months ago the Yisrael Beiteinu party quit the government in protest of the beginning of talks over the "core issues" - including Jerusalem. Prime Minister Olmert did not, at the time, deny that the division of Jerusalem was being discussed, and said only, "I have a national responsibility" to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority, and "there is no alternative to conducting serious diplomatic negotiations in order to reach peace."
Knesset Members Demand Status Report
Some 15 members of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee signed a letter demanding that Olmert and Livni present them with details of the negotiations with the PA, as well as of the secret contacts with Syria. "We cannot agree to have the government conduct important talks without proper parliamentary monitoring," the MKs wrote. Kadima Party MKs are currently not signed on the letter.
Abu Ala also told Al-Quds that the Arab view is that the establishment of a Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem is a "certainty, whether it happens this year, next year, or the year after." However, he admitted that he is not optimistic - presumably for the short-term - in light of the opposing positions between Israel and the PA regarding Jerusalem and the refugees.
Islamic Jihad spokesman Abu Hamza took the opportunity reiterate that the "Palestinian people" [sic] would never cede even one inch of its land, and that "resistance" - the codeword for terrorism - "is the only guarantee for the return of Palestinian rights."