Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Tuesday Talks on Fate of Capital

Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority (PA) chairman Mahmoud Abbas will met Tuesday to discuss the future of Jerusalem and the PA demand that millions of foreign Arabs move to Israel, Channel Two television reported. The Prime Minister's Kadima party will vote the following day on a successor to lead the party and try to form the next government.
Prime Minister Olmert may step down immediately, if one of the four candidates in the Kadima primaries wins 40 percent of the vote on the first round. However, Olmert is going ahead with a "business as usual" approach. Channel Two said that he, and not Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, is talking with the PA about the future borders of the capital.

The Shas party has consistently said it will leave the coalition and presumably topple the government if senior negotiators, meaning Foreign Minister Livni, were to discuss the possibility of dividing the capital so that the PA can control part of it and claim it is as the capital of a new Arab country. She has repeatedly denied that she has spoken with PA negotiators on the matter, but Abbas has insisted the issue has been discussed.

The Israeli position on Jerusalem has continually softened in the past year, especially since American Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice declared several months ago that the Har Homa neighborhood, near Gilo in southern Jerusalem, is a "settlement," putting it on par with all Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. By definition, all of the neighborhoods added to Jerusalem after the Six-Day War in 1967 have the same status as Har Homa. These areas include French Hill, Gilo, Ramot, Pisgat Zev and East Talpiot, among others.

According to Channel Two, Olmert has now expressed willingness to surrender over 98.1 percent of Judea and Samaria to Arab control, even more than the 94-96 percent he had previously offered. On top of other land concessions, Abbas has asked Olmert for the large Jerusalem suburb of Ma'aleh Adumim which is located on the edge of the Judean desert and is home to approximately 36,000 Jews, as well as Givat Ze'ev, named after Zionist leader Ze'ev Jabotinsky, located north of Jerusalem and home to approximately 11,000 Jews, including Karlin-Stoliner Rebbe Boruch Yaakov Meir Shochet. Abbas still wants to discuss the possibility of commandeering the large Jerusalem neighborhoods of Gilo and French Hill.

Israel also has softened its stance on the issue of "refugees," the common term that refers to approximately five million Arabs in foreign countries who claim to be descended from Arabs who fled Israel during the wars in 1948 and 1967.

The issue once was a "red line" that no political leader was willing to cross, but Prime Minister Olmert, several months ago, quietly agreed to make several hundred "exceptions" for Arabs from outside of Israel to move to Judea and Samaria. The number later increased to several thousand, during subsequent meetings with Abbas, and now stands at 5,000, with Israel willing to absorb a thousand Arabs per year for 5 years. Abbas has rejected this number, telling Olmert that Israel should accept even more.

One driving force behind Prime Minister's determination to reach an outline of an agreement with Abbas is to satisfy the determination by American President George W. Bush that a deal will be made before the next president takes office next January.

An Olmert-Abbas pact will not have any legal standing without Cabinet or Knesset approval but will be able to be used by the American government and the European Union (EU) as a tool to force the next Israeli government to use it as a base for further Israeli concessions.

Abbas also wants an agreement in order to bolster his claim that his mandate can be extended for another year. He has arranged to meet with President Bush in Washington next week, possibly with an agreement in hand.

Both Israel and the PA have said there is no chance of concluding a pact this year on the final status of a new Arab state within Israel's current border.


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