CBNNews.com - JERUSALEM, Israel - On Sunday, quoting senior Palestinian officials in Ramallah, The Jerusalem Post reported that Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and former Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia have been "secretly" negotiating Jerusalem's future.
"The negotiations are not easy," Ahmed Qureia said Sunday. "These are the most difficult issues, and they include Jerusalem, the refugees, the borders and settlements," he said.
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Nimer Hammad, political advisor to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, said his government "sensed" Israeli's willingness to discuss Jerusalem's future.
"There are public meetings and there are secret ones," another senior PA official said. "The main progress has been achieved during the secret talks, particularly on the issue of Jerusalem," he said.
"Today we can say that Israel is prepared to withdraw from almost all the Arab neighborhoods and villages in Jerusalem. Israel is prepared to divide Jerusalem, and this is a positive development," he said.
Livni had no comment on the discussions taking place "behind closed doors," while an Israeli official said talks focused on procedural rather than substantive issues.
Either way, the disclosure put a damper on Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's promise to Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai, chairman of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party.
Less than a week before the Winograd Commission issued its final report on January 30 evaluating the government's handling of the Second Lebanon War, Olmert assured Yishai that Jerusalem's fate would be the last issue taken up in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
Yishai said he would pull Shas out of the government when talks on dividing Jerusalem began in earnest.
On Sunday, officials close to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas said those talks have been taking place all along.
"Jerusalem was, of course, on the table," said one senior PA official. "There is almost full understanding with Israel" on establishing a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, he said.
While Yishai continues to talk about leaving the government, members of the opposition say it's time to act.
"The cat is out of the bag," Member of Knesset (MK) Zevulun Orlev (National Union/National Religious Party) said.
"The fact that the Olmert government is not telling the truth about the negotiations with the Palestinians has been revealed," he said.
"Shas will no longer be able to say they didn't know. Even if the prime minister isn't telling them the truth, they can thank The Jerusalem Post for revealing it to them. I hope Shas keeps its promise and leaves the government that is dividing Jerusalem," Orlev said.
MK Gideon Sa'ar (Likud) said the government's "secret talks" would yield indefensible borders and a divided capital, and Shas has run out of excuses for delaying its departure from the government.
"Shas should withdraw immediately from the coalition, as it promised," said the Likud faction chairman, adding that it was also time for all Cabinet ministers "who oppose such moves to wake up."
MK Avraham Ravitz (United Torah Judaism) said "Jerusalem's fate is being decided like a thief in the night."
"It cannot be that while Olmert is denying there are any talks about Jerusalem at all, Livni is negotiating in back rooms with Abu Ala [Ahmed Qureia's nom de guerre] about the state of our capital," Ravitz said.
Source: The Jerusalem Post