Olmert delays Jerusalem negotiations

PM vows to stay on after Wednesday's publication of the Winograd report on the Second Lebanon War.

olmert worried 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
olmert worried 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Ahead of Wednesday's release of the Winograd Report, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert took steps to reinforce his coalition on Monday by issuing reassuring statements to Kadima, Labor and Shas MKs in a speech to the Kadima faction at the Knesset. To Kadima MKs, he vowed that the party would withstand Winograd as it had overcome many tests in the past, and he said that Kadima would "lead Israel for many years to come." Olmert promised Labor that "negotiations with the Palestinians would deal with all issues" and he accepted Shas's demand that the Jerusalem issue be delayed until the end of the Annapolis diplomatic process. "The Jerusalem issue is very sensitive," Olmert said. "It is preferable to start with issues that have more potential for reaching an understanding than starting with issues in which there is already significant disagreement." The Final Winograd Report: All the latest news and analyses The prime minister confirmed a January 17 Jerusalem Post report entitled "Olmert to cave in to Shas on Jerusalem," which reported that Olmert had relayed messages to party head Eli Yishai and Communications Minister Ariel Attias that negotiations with the Palestinians on Jerusalem would proceed at a much slower pace than other core issues of the conflict. "Olmert is not an idiot," Attias said at the time. "He will leave the Jerusalem issue until the end of the negotiations because of us, and we will make sure he never gets there." Attias responded to Olmert's statement Monday by saying that the prime minister was "fulfilling his end of the bargain." A right-wing MK privately admitted that he was happy that "Jerusalem was saved because of Olmert's political needs." But Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman mocked Olmert for "paying off Shas." "Shas is disappointed that Lieberman left the government instead of helping put the brakes on dividing Jerusalem," a party official said in response. "Had he stayed, Shas would have achieved what it did with less effort." Left-wing MKs accused Olmert of sacrificing the peace process for his own political survival. Meretz MK Zehava Gal-On said that Olmert's promises about deliberations about the core issues of the conflict were merely intended to mislead the public. "Let's not give Shas too much credit," Labor MK Danny Yatom said. "There is no peace process, so there was nothing to sacrifice to Shas. Nothing has advanced and no one seriously believes that Olmert ever intended to reach a peace agreement in a year." Yatom played a trick on the Labor faction by saying that he had received a leak from the Winograd Report. He read the MKs a quote from the interim report released in April and said that after such damning words, there was no doubt that Labor could not remain in a government led by Olmert. Barak tried to quell unrest in the faction that is deeply divided about how to react to the report. Labor's kibbutz sector will host a debate Sunday between National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who supports remaining in the government, and MK Ophir Paz-Pines, who wants Labor to quit the coalition. "I know there are [faction] members, who find it difficult to wait [for the report to come out]," Barak told the faction. "I say be patient and let the next 48 hours pass, so we can read the report and then you will hear my opinion." Barak asked the Labor MKs to tell him their opinion about whether Labor should stay. But a Barak associate admitted afterward that "he could not care less about the MKs, but he wanted to listen to them to make them feel important." Opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu told the Likud faction that the blunders of the Second Lebanon War and the current crisis in the Gaza Strip proved that the government had not and would not learn from its mistakes. "The government has had a chain of failures that necessitate its replacement," Netanyahu said. "There is one conclusion. This government must go home." Sheera Claire Frenkel contributed to this report.