Netanyahu: Jerusalem won't be divided

Tells Sarkozy united capital would preserve religious freedom; PM: Real progress made on core issues.

olmert pensive 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
olmert pensive 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
"Jerusalem will never be divided," Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu told French President Nicolas Sarkozy when the two met on Tuesday morning. Only a united Jerusalem would "make freedom of religion possible for people of all religions in the city," Netanyahu said. He also presented Sarkozy with an economic plan for peace with the Palestinians that he is trying to advance. Also Tuesday, the London-based Arabic daily Asharq Al-Awsat published an interview with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in which he was quoted as saying that tangible progress had been made in talks with the Palestinians regarding the fate of refugees, as well as the issues of borders and security arrangements. According to Olmert, the issue of Jerusalem would only be discussed in the final stage of talks because it was "volatile," but expressed hope that the two sides could overcome the obstacles and reach an agreement over the fate of the capital. The prime minister brushed aside recent reports of a possible meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad on the sidelines of the upcoming Mediterranean nations conference in Paris, saying that such a meeting "is not the reason for my participation in the conference." He also claimed that it was Syria rather than Israel that insisted that the indirect talks between Jerusalem and Damascus be made public. "In the past, they have not done so, and it is an important and positive thing," he said in reference to the Syrian's insistence on disclosure, reiterating that a peace agreement with the Syrians must take the place of Damascus's relationship with the Iranians. "Let us be honest and clear: Does it make sense that we will sign a peace treaty with Syria and open an embassy in Damascus, and that they will open an embassy in Tel Aviv... and Syria-Iran ties will remain as-is?" Regarding the Gaza truce, Olmert warned that continued weapons smuggling from the Sinai into the Gaza Strip "will be a breach of the truce agreement, and we will be forced to return to military action." Olmert expressed real hope that a peace deal with the Palestinians could be hammered out by the end of 2008. He said that talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas were not only about a statement of principles but rather strove toward attaining a real, detailed agreement. The prime minister reiterated Israel's commitment to denying Iran a nuclear weapon. "We cannot sit on our hands in the face of the nuclearization of [a country] that calls for Israel's destruction day in and day out," he asserted, adding that the "Iranian problem" was not only Israel's to deal with, but pertained to the US, Russia, Europe, Japan and even the Arabs. He demanded that all of the parties work together in order to deny Iran military nuclear capabilities. Olmert refused to divulge any information regarding reports that an extensive IAF drill over Greek waters was meant to simulate an attack against Iran's nuclear facilities, which are also approximately 1,500 kilometers away from Israel. "We did not measure the distance," he said, asking the interviewer to "leave it alone." "These are maneuvers that are part of the IDF's preparations for facing up to the challenges that Israel faces," he said.