PM: Qurei doesn't decide talks' agenda

Olmert says Jerusalem not yet on the table; Shas: We're satisfied there are no "secret negotiations."

Livni 224.88 (photo credit: GPO)
Livni 224.88
(photo credit: GPO)
The coalition crisis over Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's secret negotiations on Jerusalem with former Palestinian Authority prime minister Ahmed Qurei ended on Thursday when Shas chairman Eli Yishai received reassurances from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Livni that the capital's fate was not on the table. Livni told Yishai there was no secret channel of meetings with Qurei, denying statements to the contrary by senior PA officials to The Jerusalem Post. Olmert promised the Shas leader that Jerusalem would not be discussed until the end of the negotiations with the Palestinians and that he would make sure Livni abided by that vow. "We are satisfied for now, but if secret negotiations begin tomorrow, we are leaving," a source close to Yishai said following his meetings with Olmert and Livni. "He believes the prime minister and the foreign minister. If he didn't, we would leave the coalition." Olmert also promised Yishai that construction would continue in Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem. He reportedly said that he would contact the authorities charged with planning and building in the Construction and Housing Ministry and issue new directives. The prime minister told reporters in the Knesset following the meeting with Yishai that he was not concerned about Shas leaving the government. "I don't feel that my coalition is being threatened," Olmert said. "There is no reason for Shas to leave. I don't think Shas really intends to leave the government. Shas will stay in the government for a long time." Asked about reports that Qurei personally confirmed that there had been secret talks about Jerusalem, Olmert responded: "With all due respect, Abu Ala [Qurei] doesn't decide the agenda for the talks. We established a rule that Jerusalem would be discussed last and that's clear to both sides." Kadima officials close to Olmert suggested that when he said that Qurei did not decide the talks' agenda, he was also sending a message to Livni that she could not get away with changing the order of the negotiations set by the prime minister. Coalition Chairman Eli Aflalo intends to use next Monday's Kadima faction meeting to scold Livni and to formally decide that Jerusalem's fate will not be discussed without the approval of Kadima's institutions. "If Tzipi wants to sell out Jerusalem, she will have to pass it in Kadima - but she won't succeed," a Kadima official loyal to Olmert said. "She has an interest in elections. She wants to topple Olmert. But we will restrain her." Livni's associates responded that any attempts to target her in the faction were for ulterior political motives and would not succeed. She intends to return from her current trip to the US in time to attend the faction meeting and defend herself. The foreign minister already started fighting back Wednesday in a letter she sent to Jerusalem City Council opposition leader Nir Barkat. Livni responded to Barkat's request that she react to the Post's reports about secret negotiations on the future of the capital. She said that from past experience, Israel had learned that conducting negotiations "under the floodlights" would not contribute to Israel's goals and that "for this reason, and this reason only, I have neither related to reports about agreements seemingly reached during negotiations nor will I do so in the future." Livni said she had decided with Qurei that "until there is an accord on every issue there will be no accord on any issue and that the contents of the negotiations must not be disclosed." But "you cannot conclude anything from my lack of response and the absence of a denial is not any form of confirmation," she stressed in the letter. Barkat said he was unsatisfied with the foreign minister's response. He said he was still convinced that Livni was negotiating Jerusalem's future and that he had been told about another channel of talks between Vice Premier Haim Ramon and PA businessman Muhammad Rashid. "Livni's letter exposes more than anything the fraudulent peace process led by Ramon and the prime minister," Barkat said. "Livni's refusal to reveal the vital information she knows turns her into an active partner in the fraudulent peace process of which the true aim is to divide Jerusalem." Ramon denied the report, calling Barkat's claims "absurd and unfounded." Jonny Hadi contributed to this report.