haim ramon thinks 298.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Vice Premier Haim Ramon faced a firing squad of Kadima ministers and MKs attacking him at Thursday's Kadima council meeting for his recent call to divide Jerusalem in a final-status agreement with the Palestinians.
And speaking before the council's forum on diplomatic issues at Kadima's Petah Tikva headquarters, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert resisted calls from his opponents in the party to distance himself from Ramon.
The prime minister stayed clear of the Jerusalem hot potato in his 20-minute speech and focused on less controversial concessions to the Palestinians for which there is a consensus in Kadima.
"Political discourse in recent years has become a personal battleground," Olmert said. "We are going in a different direction and trying to return matters of policy to the center of public discourse."
Ramon said that when he asked Olmert to convene a diplomatic forum, he had not realized that it would focus on him. He defended the need to divide Jerusalem and said that all of his critics would eventually agree with him.
"I don't think negotiations with the Palestinians are a zero-sum game," Ramon said. "When we give something up, it can be an achievement. We gave up Gaza because it was a burden. I think most Israelis think it's good that we aren't in Gaza. In the two years before we left Gaza, 104 Israelis died in attacks from there, and in the last two years, 24."
Ramon said Ariel Sharon's government that included the National Union and the National Religious Party built the security barrier in the capital that left out 50,000 Arab Jerusalemites in the neighborhoods of Shuafat and Kafr Akab, and that relinquishing additional Arab neighborhoods would only strengthen the Jewish hold over the city.
"Is Israeli sovereignty over the Shuafat refugee camp an asset for Israel?" Ramon asked. "We didn't pray toward Shuafat for our return to Kafr Akab. Isn't it better to say 'no' to Jabal Mukaber and Aram in return for the Palestinians recognizing the Israeli hold over Jerusalem, including the [Jewish] neighborhoods over the Green Line like Neveh Ya'acov?"
Before Ramon's speech, Kadima's ministers and MKs took turns bashing Ramon. Every time one of them said Jerusalem would remain undivided forever, they received applause from the crowd.
"Jerusalem is not a piece of real estate and no one has the right to divide it," Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz said. "We need to clearly decide what our red lines will be to guarantee defensible borders for Israel with a united Jerusalem."
Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On made a reference to an infamous speech Ramon made to the Labor central committee in 1994 when he said that Kadima should not insist on "drifting to the beach like whales."
Kadima backbenchers attacked Olmert for keeping concessions to the Palestinians a secret.
Also Thursday, Jerusalem opposition leader Nir Barkat held back on his threat to quit Kadima. "I am glad that the storm which I led influenced Kadima to support a united Jerusalem and to oppose its division," Barkat said in a press release following a party gathering. "Kadima will be tested by action and not by words."
Earlier this week, Barkat wrote to Olmert saying he would not be able to stay in the party if it supported plans for a division of Jerusalem, as drawn up by Ramon.
Meanwhile, the Labor faction endorsed MK Ephraim Sneh's proposal for the party to support dialogue with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and for the party's ministers to work to ensure the success of the US-sponsored Middle East conference expected to be held in November. The faction also voted to recommit itself to Labor's diplomatic plan from 2004, which is based on the Clinton plan from Camp David in 2000.
The MKs will reconvene next month to decide whether to support an agreement Olmert hopes to reach with Abbas or to turn in a different direction.
Etgar Lefkovits contributed to this report.