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(photo credit: AP [file])
Vice Premier Haim Ramon hinted Sunday that during the Middle East peace conference scheduled for late November, the future of Jerusalem would be discussed along other issues.
"Whoever thinks the subject of discussions will be limited to the structure of Palestinian institutions is deluded. Israel has an interest to get recognition of all of Jerusalem's Jewish neighborhoods, and to hand over control of Arab neighborhoods to the Palestinians. When we speak of a diplomatic horizon, these are the subjects we are referring to," Ramon said.
Ramon's controversial plan was first stated last month when Jerusalem City Council opposition leader Nir Barkat of Kadima asked Ramon to clarify his position on the capital. Ramon responded in a letter to Barkat that the capital's Jewish neighborhoods would remain under Israeli sovereignty, and the Arab neighborhoods would be Palestinian. Ramon said there would be 'special sovereignty' over the city's holy sites, and that the Western Wall, the Jewish Quarter and other holy sites in the Jerusalem vicinity would remain under Israeli sovereignty 'forever.'
Ramon's associates said he merely stated his own positions that he has favored for many years, since long before he joined Kadima. They said his views had become mainstream and were even adopted by Israel Beiteinu.
"What I say about Jerusalem is in line with Kadima's platform and principles," Ramon told the party activist Web site, Yalla Kadima, back in September. "We want Israel to be a democratic Jewish state. There will be territorial exchanges. In Jerusalem, what is Arab will be Palestinian and what is Jewish will be Israeli in order to ensure that Jerusalem will maintain a decisive Jewish majority. That fits with what we had in mind when we formed Kadima."
Meanwhile, OC Military Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin warned the cabinet that Syria was likely to retaliate for the IAF strike carried out in September, Army Radio reported.
Retaliation, Yadlin said, would not be carried out by Syria itself but rather via a subservient body such as Hizbullah.
Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin told the cabinet that, in the past month and a half security forces foiled seven suicide attacks in Israel, and added that the apparent lull in terror was attributable top the vigilance of the IDF, Shin Bet and other security apparatuses.
Diskin also noted a marked decline in the number of Kassam rockets fired at Israel, from 110 a month in August to 85 in September. According to Shin Bet assessments, the figures were the result of Hamas making a strategic decision to cease rocket fire.
Earlier Sunday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the cabinet that the upcoming conference would not replace direct negotiations with the Palestinians, and that his talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had produced no agreement so far.
The two leaders have met every few weeks in recent months in an effort to formulate a framework for full-fledged peace talks ahead of the conference, expected to take place in Annapolis, Maryland, in late November.
Israeli and Palestinian teams charged with drafting the document are to meet for the first time Monday, and next week, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is to return to the region to assess progress.
At the start of Sunday's regularly scheduled Cabinet meeting, Olmert told ministers that his talks with Abbas have been "mostly brainstorming and an attempt to understand the other's viewpoint."
"There have been no agreements or deals," he said.
While the international conference is designed to promote peacemaking, "it will in no way replace direct negotiations with the Palestinians," Olmert said.
Olmert went on to say that "whoever doesn't agree to talks with Abbas will tomorrow find himself facing Hamas and a terrorist regime in the West Bank."
The prime minister added that he was not ignoring the dangers and difficulties involved in negotiations with the PA but the "wider picture" must be looked at.
The US has not yet set a date for the Middle East conference or announced a list of participants. Palestinian negotiators have said they expect Rice to set a date after she visits the region.
Participation by leading Arab countries is considered key to the conference's success.
So far, regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries without diplomatic ties with Israel have been reluctant to commit, first seeking proof that the meeting will address the core issues of the conflict - final borders, the status of disputed Jerusalem, Israeli settlements and a solution for Palestinian refugees.
In an interview published on Saturday, the head of the Hamas government in Gaza urged Saudi Arabia and Egypt not to attend the conference, saying he didn't expect the gathering to produce any results.
The comments by Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister, marked the first time a top Hamas government official in Gaza criticized Arab nations for considering attending the conference. Hamas, as a movement, had issued a similar appeal late last month.
"We are going to appeal directly to the Arab brothers, especially the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and will ask them to reconsider any decision to participate in this conference," Haniyeh said.
The conference is aimed in part at giving Abbas an international boost of support in his rivalry against Hamas.