Olmert Abbas 224.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met for the first time Monday under tight wraps to begin working on a joint declaration to be issued at the upcoming US-sponsored summit in Annapolis.
A senior Israeli government official said the two sides would meet frequently, but refused to divulge any of the details of Monday's talks, only saying the teams were dealing with the "core issues."
"These meetings are not secret, but the idea is for them to work intensely and not under the constant eye of the media," the official said. The core issues refer to borders, security, refugees and Jerusalem.
The Israeli team is headed by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's chief of staff, Yoram Turbowicz, and also includes his foreign policy adviser, Shalom Turgeman, Foreign Ministry director-general Aharon Abramovitch and Amos Gilad, head of the Defense Ministry's political-military bureau.
The Palestinian Authority team is headed by former PA prime minister Ahmed Qurei, PA negotiator Saeb Erekat, PA President Mahmoud Abbasâ€š adviser Yasser Abed Rabbo and Akram Haniyeh.
The meeting took place as Olmert told the Knesset he was "firm and determined in my desire to create a momentum and provide a chance for the success of substantive political process."
The Prime Minister's Office, meanwhile, denied a report in the London-based Al-Quds al-Arabi that he and Abbas had agreed to transfer the Temple Mount's holy sites to Jordanian custody. The PMO said no agreement had been reached on the holy sites in Jerusalem.
Government officials warned there would likely be a torrent of reports over the next few weeks about the content of the negotiations, with much of it either trial balloons or wishful thinking by interested parties leaking shreds of information.
According to the newspaper report, Olmert and Abbas had agreed that the Temple Mount sites would be under Jordanian jurisdiction in a final peace deal, and Jordanian citizenship would be granted to 90,000 east Jerusalem residents.
The report also said it was likely that a supreme supervisory commission for Jerusalem would be established, which would include representatives from the UN, Egypt, Jordan, Israel and the PA.
The report drew strong criticism from both the Right and even Olmert's coalition partner, Shas.
"If the report is true, the Israeli government has stripped itself of any linkage to Zionism or its Jewish roots," MK Uri Ariel (NU/NRP) said.
"The Olmert government is trying to destroy the dreams of thousands of generations who have dreamed and worked to return the Jewish people to its land," he said. "We won't let him succeed."
Shas chairman Eli Yishai said, "Whoever thinks he has the authority to give up Jerusalem is wrong. The obligation to keep Jerusalem is solid, not a political gust of wind."
When Israel and Jordan signed a peace deal in 1994, it was agreed Israel would respect the special role of the Hashemite Kingdom over the Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem and that Jordan's historic role over the holy sites would be given significance in a final Israeli-Palestinian peace accord.
Israel Radio reported that Jordan, which recently set up a new fund for the renovation of Al-Aksa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, proposed that Jordan give Jordanian passports to some 90,000 east Jerusalem residents.