11 Kadima MKs plan to foil J'lem talks

Group holds defiant meeting while Prime Minister and party leader Ehud Olmert is on trip to Japan.

otniel schneller 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
otniel schneller 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Eleven Kadima MKs took advantage of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's trip to Japan and held a faction meeting on Monday to voice their fears about negotiations over the status of Jerusalem. Nine of the MKs openly expressed their objections to dividing the capital, and said the subject should not be on the table in talks with the Palestinians. Kadima has 29 seats in the Knesset. The group began to formulate a plan that would force the prime minister to present any agreement he reaches with the Palestinians to the Knesset for approval, sources told The Jerusalem Post. While such suggestions have been made by Labor and Israel Beiteinu in the past, this was the first instance in which the prime minister's own party tried to limit his ability to negotiate with the Palestinians. "Kadima's platform speaks about a united Jerusalem under Jewish control. Our platform is the only road map we have, and we must not deviate from it," said MK Yoel Hasson, the coalition's deputy chairman. "It is important that the prime minister and the ministers know the opinions of the rest of the party. MKs, as well as ministers have opinions on these matters," said MK Eli Aflalo, who organized the event. He said faction members felt that talks were proceeding without any input from parliamentarians. Other Kadima MKs said that they were not aware that the issue was going to be raised in the meeting, and that had they known they, too, would have attended and voiced their support for a united Jerusalem. "More than half the party, in one way or another, have expressed that our party leader - Ehud Olmert - should not divide Jerusalem. Olmert needs to take into account the voice of his own party," said a Kadima minister who was not at the meeting but who said he would soon publicly challenge Olmert's negotiations with the Palestinians. Olmert is scheduled to return from a five-day trip to Japan at the end of the week. A spokesman for the Kadima Party said that the meeting was not a revolt, but rather a meeting of MKs expressing their opinions within the parliamentary forum. Many of those MKs, however, expressed views that were strikingly similar to those of the right-wing Likud Party, whose leader, opposition head Binyamin Netanyahu, founded a Forum for a United Jerusalem. MK David Tal added that "Jerusalem cannot be touched, and making concessions on this issue is not part of Kadima's platform. When the public elected us, it did not know that we planned to make concessions in Jerusalem." MK Otniel Schneller said that Olmert must remember that Kadima was formed as a centrist party. "Kadima is neither Geneva [the Geneva Initiative] nor the Labor Party. We are in the middle, on the Jerusalem issue as well," said Schneller. "I accept the foundation of a Palestinian state, and I can consider conceding a number of isolated neighborhoods, but Jerusalem belongs to the Jewish people." Schneller added that any proposal concerning Jerusalem should be brought to the "entire Jewish people" for a referendum, echoing a proposal by the NU-NRP Party several months ago. The issue of Jerusalem has continued to plague Olmert, despite assurances from the Prime Minister's Office and his negotiating team that the issue had not been raised in talks with the Palestinians. Several high-level officials, including senior Palestinian leadership and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, recently said that "all issues" were on the negotiation table - prompting many to suggest that Jerusalem had also been raised in the talks. Shas has repeatedly stated that "the red line stands at Jerusalem," and that if any discussion on ceding part of the city were held its 11 MKs would bolt the coalition. On Monday, several religious newspapers suggested that Shas was simply waiting to make several legislative gains and appease their constituents before leaving the coalition. Legislation that Shas is currently supporting includes bills to increase monthly child allowances and expand rabbinical court authorities. Meanwhile, Labor secretary-general Eitan Cabel said during a Labor faction meeting Monday that "under no circumstances" would the party allow Shas to proceed with its plan to increase the authority of the rabbinic courts at the expense of the High Court. "Shas has their red lines, and we have ours. It is written into our coalition agreement that the authority of the High Court will be honored. We will not allow our agreement to be tossed away," said Cabel. Labor MKs said that they would fight the bill, which was initiated by MK Isaac Herzog (Labor), in the plenum by raising a number of objections and attempting to stall the bill in committee.