Kadima officials celebrated the fact that the opening of diplomatic negotiations with Syria dwarfed the news coverage about Prime Minister Ehud Olmert allegedly receiving massive sums of money for his private use from American Jewish financier Morris Talansky on Wednesday's nightly news broadcasts. They denied charges from opposition MKs that the decision to reveal the negotiations on Wednesday had been made to distract the public from the corruption case against Olmert on the night that the gag order preventing the publication of the most damning information was lifted. They said the Israeli and Syrian officials had already decided three weeks ago, before the Talansky case hit the limelight, that the two sides would complete three days of talks on Wednesday and then reveal the negotiations to the public. "It is clear that the announcement about the channel with Syria is not spin," a top Kadima official close to Olmert said. "If it looks like spin, or had the effect of spin, it was unintentional. Perhaps if he did not negotiate with Syria because of the investigations against him, he would really deserve criticism." Another Kadima official close to Olmert said that two weeks before the Talansky investigation emerged, Olmert had told him in closed conversations that the diplomatic process with Syria was advancing, including serious practical steps. "The people who know what is happening in the diplomatic process with Syria know that there really is no connection [with the investigation]," the source said. Olmert's office revealed that Defense Minister Ehud Barak had been updated regularly about the talks, but that Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni had only been told on Wednesday morning. Livni's associates said she had no problem with the talks as long as Syria was held responsible for its support for terrorism and as long as the negotiations with Damascus did not interfere with the talks she was leading with the Palestinian Authority. Kadima officials speculated that news of talks with Syria could help Livni out politically, because the negotiations could persuade Barak to allow Livni to serve as prime minister if Olmert should suspend himself, rather than remove Labor from the government and initiate elections. But a Livni loyalist in Kadima said that Olmert clearly was not negotiating with Syria to help her politically. Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, who intends to run against Livni for the Kadima leadership, made a point of not criticizing the negotiations on Wednesday, but his office recalled that he had said in the past that giving the Golan Heights to Syria was tantamount to giving the land directly to Iran. Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit, a third candidate for the Kadima leadership, said that he was ready to give Syria control over the Golan Heights "tomorrow," on the condition that Damascus would be ready to lease the land to Israel for 25 years, during which the Assad regime would need to prove its ability to live in peace alongside Israel. Construction and Housing Minister Ze'ev Boim, a longtime political ally of Olmert, said he opposed withdrawing from the Golan at this stage, but he reserved the right to change his mind depending on what he heard from the Syrian side as a result of the negotiations. Boim said he thought a peace agreement could be reached if Syria ceased all support for terror and ended its strategic alliance with Iran, and if Israel did not withdraw from the Golan for a long time. One Kadima minister said in closed conversations that he would visit the Golan Heights next week to emphasize that the territory must remain in Israel's hands forever. Barak said he welcomed any effort to remove Syria from the axis of evil. He convened Labor ministers to brief them about the talks on Wednesday night. They were also expected to discuss the political ramifications of Olmert's legal problems. Labor MK Ophir Paz-Pines passed a preliminary reading of a bill requiring a prime minister or minister to quit within 30 days of when an indictment against him was issued. The bill passed by a margin of 61 to six, despite the opposition of the government. Kadima MKs had intended to oppose the bill, but when they saw that it would pass by a significant majority, they voted in favor. Olmert has already announced that he would resign if indicted. The Likud released a statement late Wednesday accusing Olmert of a "transparent and cynical political maneuver to distract the public from his personal problems." The Likud central committee will convene next week in Katzrin in the Golan Heights to show solidarity with the residents of the area. Meanwhile, a Channel 2 telephone survey conducted on Wednesday found that 70 percent of people opposed relinquishing the Golan for peace, compared to 22% in favor. In addition, 58% said Olmert did not have the legitimacy to oversee talks on a deal with Syria, compared to 33% who said he did. The poll also found that 57% believed the timing of the new negotiations was linked to the Olmert corruption case, compared to 22% who didn't.