PM touts plan that postpones J'lem talks

Olmert interested in agreement with PA that will include understandings on other 'core issues'.

Jerusalem Arabs 248.88  (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Jerusalem Arabs 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is interested in drawing up an agreement with the Palestinians that will include understandings on borders, refugees and security arrangements, but leave Jerusalem for a later date and another framework, The Jerusalem Post has learned. Olmert alluded to this proposed new framework for the first time during a press briefing after meeting with US President George W. Bush, who arrived Wednesday morning for a two-day state-visit to celebrate the state's 60th anniversary. "We need to reach an understanding that will define accurately the parameters for the realization of the vision of you, Mr. President, of a two-state solution that will relate to the issue of borders, to the issue of refugees, to the issue of the security arrangements, and will set forth also, at the end of the day, the framework for how to deal later with the issue of Jerusalem," the prime minister said. The Post learned the idea was to come up with a joint agreement with the Palestinians on a framework where Jerusalem could be discussed at a later date. In this way, a lack of agreement on the capital, the most sensitive of the "core issues" currently being discussed, would not torpedo agreement on other issues where there was widely believed to be a greater degree of understanding. Creating a new framework to deal with Jerusalem would change one of the fundamental principles of the current round of negotiations: that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed upon. One government source said Olmert's remarks on a new mechanism were made in Bush's presence, but were intended for the ears of Shas leader Eli Yishai, who has threatened to pull his party out of the government were Jerusalem to be discussed. Bush made no reference to Olmert's comment on Jerusalem. Olmert said he briefed Bush on the negotiations with the Palestinians, and added, "We are genuinely interested in meeting the time framework that we talked about in Annapolis." At Annapolis, Maryland, in November, Bush spoke of a framework agreement dealing with all the core issues by the end of 2008. A new framework for Jerusalem, however, would seem to take that particular core issue out of the equation. Diplomatic officials said that while the situation with the Palestinians was a topic of discussion in the Bush-Olmert meeting, it was not necessarily the central one, since US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is accompanying Bush on this trip, held discussions on this matter with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Rather, the officials said, the two discussed wider strategic issues in the region, such as Lebanon and Iran. "The Americans are very concerned about the situation in Lebanon," one diplomatic official said. "This is very much on their mind." Bush voiced this concern after meeting with Olmert when he said the current crisis in Lebanon "is an Iranian effort to destabilize that young democracy, and the United States stands strongly with the Saniora government." Bush said it was "interesting" that Hizbullah, "the so-called protector of the Lebanese against Israel, has now turned on its own people." The Olmert-Bush meeting Wednesday was expected to be the most substantive meeting during Bush's two-day visit here. The two leaders first met for an hour with teams that included Livni, Barak, and Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi on the Israeli side, and Rice and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley on the US side. After that meeting, Olmert and Bush broke away and held another hour-long conversation. The two leaders then made short statements in a room in the Prime Minister's Residence set up for the occasion by a White House team to resemble in some way the Oval Office setting where Bush receives his official visitors. Bush, during his comments with Olmert, reaffirmed the United States' commitment to Israel's security and the peace process. "Hamas's stated objective is the destruction of the State of Israel, and therefore the United States will stand strongly with Israel, as well as stand strongly with the Palestinians who don't share that vision," Bush said. Olmert described Bush as a "great person, great leader and great friend," sentiments he expounded on later in the evening when he spoke, along with Bush and President Shimon Peres, at a gala event in Jerusalem celebrating 60 years of Israeli-American friendship. Bush, who met with Peres prior to meeting Olmert, is scheduled to tour Masada on Thursday morning, accompanied by Olmert. He is also scheduled to address the Knesset, meet Quartet envoy Tony Blair, and then dine, along with his wife, Laura, with Olmert and his wife, Aliza, at the Prime Minister's Residence. Bush is expected to discuss the diplomatic process in his Knesset address, something he did not mention in his brief speech at Wednesday night's gala in which he saluted Israel very warmly. "We are thrilled to be here, with one of America's close friends. Laura and I are honored to represent the American people on the 60th anniversary... Happy Birthday," Bush said during that speech, to resounding applause.