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Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's hints in a speech to the Knesset on Monday that he was considering handing over Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem to the Palestinian Authority did not have any immediate repercussions on his coalition.
But it did help consolidate the opposition and strengthen its resolve to topple the government as soon as possible.
Opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu and Likud whip Gideon Sa'ar met with the United Torah Judaism faction and decided to intensify cooperation between the two factions, which would work to coordinate their stances on key issues.
UTJ MK Avraham Ravitz, previously the party official most in favor of joining the government, said that after Olmert's hints about dividing Jerusalem, there was no longer a chance that UTJ would join the coalition.
"We are very worried about the apparent position of the government on Jerusalem," Ravitz said. "I don't see any willingness on the part of the current government to create conditions that would allow us to join the government, and the Jerusalem issue on top of that bothers us even more."
Ravitz said it wasn't necessary to join the government to work to prevent a Jerusalem withdrawal, noting that he did not believe Shas has had enough of an impact from inside the coalition.
At a special Knesset ceremony on Monday marking the sixth anniversary of the assassination of tourism minister Rehavam Ze'evi (Ghandi), Olmert said Ze'evi was responsible for drawing up the present city map of Jerusalem, which the Knesset approved on July 27, 1967.
"It is thanks to that decision that we now have wonderful and vibrant neighborhoods such as Ramot, French Hill, Ramat Eshkol, Givat Hamivtar, Pisgat Ze'ev, Armon Hanatziv, Har Homa and Gilo, not to mention the Jewish Quarter in the Old City," he said. "Was it necessary to also add the Shuafat refugee camp, Sawakra, Walaje and other villages and define them as part of Jerusalem? On that, I must confess, I am not convinced."
Sa'ar responded to Olmert's speech by calling it undeniable proof that Olmert intended to divide Jerusalem and by calling upon Shas and Israel Beiteinu to leave the government immediately to ensure that the capital remained united.
Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski also addressed Olmert's comments, declaring on Tuesday that the government should respond to calls to divide the capital by building more housing in the city.
Lupolianski, speaking at the Jerusalem Conference of Mayors at Beit Hanassi, said that 2,000 housing units were being marketed in the city's Arab neighborhoods, and another 20,000 were expected to go on the market in the future.
Sheera Claire Frenkel contributed to this report.
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