Jerusalem is ours, warns Likud

The right wing Israeli opposition party Likud led by Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday warned the government against compromising on the status of Jerusalem in current talks with Palestinian negotiators.

Zalman Shoval, head of the foreign affairs department of Likud, said yesterday that the issue of Jerusalem should "not be on the table in any way" at the planned international conference in Annapolis, Maryland later in the yea—the basis of which he sharply criticized.

Mr Shoval was speaking after a report in Haaretz that the party was pressing two right wing parties Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu to leave the governing coalition in response to Wednesday's remarks by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert - interpreted as implying the city could be divided in any final deal with the Palestinians.

In sharp contrast Yossi Beilin, leader of the left wing Meretz said last night: "Mr Olmert knows very well that at the end of the day, and that is not too far away—the division of Jerusalem is a must. You will not have peace without a division and I think he's well aware of it."

Mr Olmert's questioning of whether certain Palestinian neighbourhoods needed to remain in what Israel officially sees as its undivided capital followed earlier – much more sweeping - suggestions by his Cabinet ally Haim Ramon that Jerusalem could be split into capitals—Israeli and Palestinian - along the lines proposed by the then President Bill Clinton at the Camp David talks in 2000. That has long been acknowledged to be an absolute requirement of the Palestinians in any negotiations.

Mr Shoval, who was Israeli ambassador to the US at the time of the Madrid Middle East conference in 1991, said he had negotiated at the time an assurance from the then President George Bush senior that Jerusalem would not be on the conference's agenda. The same should apply to what he yesterday described to foreign reporters as the "Annapolis charade."

Mr Shoval—who quoted a Military Intelligence report claiming that the Palestinians would fail to carry out their commitments at the conference said that on Jerusalem Israeli sovereignty –including over the Temple Mount—known to Muslims as Haram al Sharif - were "non negotiable."

He said that could be achieved without Israel "taking charge" of Muslim holy sites. But he added: "Our approach today is that Jerusalem should not be on the table in Annapolis and that therefore we don’t want to go into details."

By contrast Mr Beilin wrote in Ynet earlier this week: "Continued declarations of a "united Jerusalem" are just empty slogans in a de facto divided Jerusalem. It's time to remove the mask and to act according to real Israeli interests: Namely, to reach a final status agreement that would allow the Palestinians to found a state alongside Israel with its capital in East Jerusalem."

Meanwhile Condoleeza Rice, the US Secretary of State, who is pressing the two sides to reach an outline accord ahead of Annapolis, seemed to have secured the support of a previously skeptical Egypt for going ahead with the conference as planned. The Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said after meeting Ms rice in Cairo that she "has helped us to understand the American objective. We feel encouraged regarding what we heard from Secretary Rice and promised her that we would help."

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