Peretz may back e. J'lem compromise

Labor head expected to propose return of Arab areas as part of final peace deal.

amir peretz 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
amir peretz 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz is expected to propose a partial withdrawal from east Jerusalem under a final peace settlement with the Palestinians when he presents the party platform at a party meeting in Jerusalem Sunday, a Labor Party official said on Saturday. While the platform will stress keeping Jewish holy sites in Jerusalem under Israeli control, it is likely to support handing over Arab neighborhoods, said the official. Although Peretz hinted at the move during an interview with The Jerusalem Post last month, the official unveiling of the platform will be the first time a mainstream party openly states that it will give up parts of Jerusalem. Labor MK Yuli Tamir told The Associated Press over the weekend that the platform would state that Labor backs a "united Jerusalem consisting of its Jewish neighborhoods. This is a statement that we are willing to give up the Muslim neighborhoods of Jerusalem in order to strengthen the Jewish majority." Kadima and Likud officials attacked Labor for adopting a platform that they termed "leftist and dangerous." The head of the Likud campaign's strategic team, MK Yuval Steinitz, said that "those who divide Jerusalem will invite Hamas and Tanzim terrorists, who will fire on Jerusalem and endanger the people of Ramot and Pisgat Ze'ev." Kadima officials said that "Labor is under pressure, with a leader looking for a path and an identity, so it is not surprising that the party talks at the same time about negotiations and unilateral separation. The question is whether they will listen to their candidates or their American adviser who wrote an ambiguous platform." Meanwhile, Meretz Party leader Yossi Beilin announced over the weekend that his party's platform would advocate that children with a biological Jewish father be declared Jewish and Israel allow civil marriages. Meretz has also made moves to attract young voters ahead of the March 28 general elections by supporting the use of "light" drugs such as cannabis. The party said that there was a distinction between cannabis and "heavier" drugs such as cocaine and heroin. Peretz met on Friday with Labor candidates to formulate a party platform on security and diplomatic issues. Peretz has received heavy criticism over the past several months for neglecting to address those issues. While the Labor chairman has hinted that he would divide Jerusalem in the past, Sunday's platform is set to clearly define which portions of east Jerusalem he would be willing to make part of a Palestinian state. Sources close to Peretz also said that he would withdraw from territories even without bilateral peace talks, a departure from his past condemnation of Sharon's decision to unilaterally withdrawal from Gaza. "Amir [Peretz] will be making a strong presentation on security issues," said a Labor Party spokeswoman. "He will be presenting a platform that represents the whole party." Saeb Erekat, the chief PA negotiator, welcomed the new Labor Party position, saying it was a reflection of the changing positions among both Israelis and Palestinians. "That's a step in the right direction, that means that we are heading to a two-state solution," Erekat said. "Irrespective of the difficulties and the pains of Palestinians and Israelis, now I think we are moving forward." While veteran MKs Matan Vilna'i and Binyamin Ben-Eliezer had failed to attend the first meeting of Labor candidates following the primaries due to disappointment over their placement, both attended the meeting Friday to discuss security issues. Vilna'i, Ben-Eliezer, Ami Ayalon, MK Danny Yatom and MK Ephraim Sneh form the backbone of Labor's security representatives. Peretz is also expected to follow Sunday's speech with a presentation at the annual Herzliya Conference on the balance of Israel's national security on Monday. Also Friday, Peretz and nearly 30 Labor candidates visited Lod, where Yoram Marciano, who holds the number 18 spot on the Labor list, resides and met with local residents. Party members described the festive atmosphere as Labor candidates promised to work to improve economic conditions in the town. Meanwhile, a new Meimad MK entered the Knesset on Saturday night on the Labor-Meimad list. Tova Ilan, who heads the Yaakov Herzog Center for Jewish Studies of the Religious Kibbutz Movement, joined the Knesset after former MK Effi Oshaya's resignation took effect. Ilan, 77, is an experienced educator and has been active for many years in various attempts to improve relationships between the religious and non-religious Jews. Ilan said she had not decided yet whether she wanted to enter the Knesset for two months while the parliament was not in session. She said that if she remained an MK, she would donate her salary to youth projects. Meimad's leader, MK Michael Melchior, released a statement calling Ilan "the first lady of religious Zionism" and said that "she devoted her entire life to improving education and welfare and relations between secular and religious Jews." AP contributed to this report.