Is the future division of Jerusalem being negotiated and discussed between Israeli and PA negotiating teams, or isn't it? Despite an accumulation of reports that Jerusalem is already on the table - and that many of the details of its future division between Israel and the PA have already been concluded - Prime Minister Ehud Olmert continues to say that it will be left for last in the talks.
Following the meeting last night (Tuesday) between Olmert and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas at Olmert's residence in Jerusalem, Olmert's staffers said the two leaders did not mention Jerusalem.
Senior PA leaders, on the other hand, said that Jerusalem was most definitely discussed. They said that it could not be otherwise, as the various issues of the negotiations are inseparable and cannot be discussed independently of each other.
For Shas, the phrase "if negotiations begin" has apparently been replaced by "if negotiations continue."
A "senior PA official in Ramallah" was recently quoted as bragging that "major progress" had been made in the talks regarding Jerusalem: "Today we can say that Israel is agreeable to withdraw from nearly all the Arab neighborhoods and villages in Jerusalem. Israel is willing to re-divide Jerusalem, and this is a positive development."
Barkat to Livni
Jerusalem City Councilman and likely future mayoral candidate Nir Barkat wrote last week to Foreign Minister Livni, "If these reports are true, they are a complete departure from the fundamental principles of [your] Kadima party, and a blatant violation of Israel's Basic Law: Jerusalem. They are also a breach of the voters' trust, as well as an undermining of Israel's sovereignty."
Barkat asked, "In your role as negotiations coordinator with the Palestinians, do you confirm that Israel is now prepared to give up parts of Jerusalem to them?"
Livni to Barkat
In response, Livni wrote that it was decided at the Annapolis Summit last November that "all of the core issues, with no exceptions, would be discussed." However, she added that the Annapolis approach also states that "until everything is concluded, nothing is concluded."
Moshe Milner, GPO
The Shas Party has been under tremendous pressure to quit the government and thus prevent or impede these talks from continuing. The party's Council of Torah Sages, headed by former Chief Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, resolved three weeks ago that once government representatives start talking with the PA about splitting Jerusalem, Shas will immediately leave the government coalition.
Shas: We'll Leave if Talks Continue
However, this decision has apparently been changed. Speaking before a Conference of Presidents audience in Jerusalem, Shas Party chairman Minister Eli Yeshai said, "If negotiations on Jerusalem continue, Shas will immediately leave the government." The phrase "if negotiations begin" has apparently been replaced by "if negotiations continue."
Shas spokesman Ro'i Lachmanovitch told Arutz-7 in response, "Minister Yeshai did not say that there are talks, as some reporters imply. He said that if the talks show progress - and that is very different. I say again: Shas will quit if talks begin regarding Jerusalem, or if progress is made in the diplomatic talks."
Shas affairs commentator Yossi Elituv recently wrote an open letter to Shas leaders, stating, "The Prime Minister has decided to take advantage of the time left until the coming elections to formulate an unreal and dangerous diplomatic agreement that has major and far-reaching concessions." Asked about this, Lachmanovitch said, "I have no interest in relating to points made by journalists."
More PA Demands
In any event, the PA is not resting on its laurels. Top PA negotiator Saeb Erekat now says that the PA wants even more than just the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem. According to Erekat, the entirely Jewish Jerusalem neighborhoods of Gilo, Har Homa, and Ramot are "settlements in every sense," and must be given over to the PA. In addition, Erekat said that the PA also demands the city of Maaleh Adumim and the Givat Ze'ev local council, east and north of the capital, respectively.
Binyamin Netanyahu, speaking at the Jerusalem Conference this morning, said, "Prime Minister Olmert said they're not talking about Jerusalem and they're leaving it for the end. But I say that if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then they mean to split up Jerusalem."