'Talks being held on Jerusalem'

Netanyahu rejects claim that city's fate is not being negotiated; says Hamas will fill any vacuum.

netanyahu bibi 224 88 (photo credit: )
netanyahu bibi 224 88
(photo credit: )
The Olmert government is taking steps to divide the capital, opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday, and Shas must immediately leave the coalition to avoid contributing to the "destruction of Jerusalem." "This weak government is actively preparing to give away Jerusalem," Netanyahu told the fifth annual Jerusalem Conference in the capital. "It is attempting to deny and whitewash the issue, but we know what is truly happening." Netanyahu accused Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of duplicity, saying that despite claims to the contrary, core issues, including Jerusalem, were being discussed in Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. "The prime minister said that we are not talking about Jerusalem, and that we are leaving it until last. But I say, if it looks like a duck, and it walks like a duck, then they are carving up Jerusalem," Netanyahu said. Officials in the Prime Minister's Office said the issue of Jerusalem was not raised during discussions between Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas this week. Olmert has repeatedly said he did not plan to cede parts of the capital, and that the issue of Jerusalem would not be raised at this point in the negotiations. The Palestinian leadership, however, has said that "all key issues," including Jerusalem, were currently on the table. Shas says Jerusalem is a "red line" for them and that if a future division of the city is raised in talks with the Palestinians, its 12 MKs will leave the government. While Netanyahu said he believed Shas's commitment to "guarding Jerusalem" was sincere, he questioned its continued participation in the coalition. "Why are you still in the government? Why are you laying a red carpet for Olmert so that he can cede Jerusalem?" Netanyahu asked. "You say you are waiting for a signed document. But in the current situation, you will not be able to disavow yourself from what Olmert is doing. "I repeat: Shas, what are you doing there? Get out of the government and save Jerusalem." Negotiations focusing on a divided Jerusalem must be halted, as such a move would only create a vacuum that would be filled by Hamas and Iran, Netanyahu said. The Likud chairman pointed to past Israeli withdrawals to demonstrate the dangers posed by a divided Jerusalem. "Two of our withdrawals brought Hizbullah and Hamas to positions of power - the withdrawal from Lebanon [in 2000] strengthened Hizbullah, and the withdrawal from Gaza [in 2005] strengthened Hamas," Netanyahu said. "When there is an agreement with a Palestinian government that is this weak, it signals to Hamas and to Iran that Israel is leaving and that Iran can fill the vacuum," he continued. "If we withdraw from Jerusalem, Hamas will go in. It will turn into a haven for global terror. If you want peace in Jerusalem, leave it united."