Talks on J'lem 'At End of Process'

The question of Jerusalem is likely to be left for last in the negotiations with the Palestinians as the Israeli side has become convinced in recent weeks that it is too sensitive and complex an issue, with potentially negative ramifications for the entire negotiating process.

From the point of view of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the question of Jerusalem is particularly difficult. Moreover, there are concerns that talks on Jerusalem have the potential to break up the coalition, since the ultra-Orthodox Shas has established it as cause for leaving the government.

A senior political source in Jerusalem stressed yesterday that the prime minister has still not formulated an idea for resolving the question of Jerusalem.

"It is obvious to him how a solution to the question of the borders and the refugees would look like, and that it would more or less be in line with proposals that have been raised in the past," the source noted.

"On the other hand, on the question of Jerusalem, he has many doubts and he is not inclined to adopt any of the solutions or ideas that have been raised in previous negotiations."

The question of Jerusalem was raised during talks held by Foreign Ministry Director General Aaron Abramovich in Paris a week ago. Abramovich met with Jean-David Levitte, adviser to President Nicolas Sarkozy on foreign affairs, and with other senior French Foreign Ministry officials, briefing them on the progress in the negotiations.

Haaretz has learned that the Abramovich told the French officials that it is highly likely that that the negotiations on Jerusalem will have to be postponed because of the domestic political crisis that they might trigger.

Abramovich last night denied having raised domestic political concerns in the matter of Jerusalem during his talks in Paris.

It also appears that U.S. President George W. Bush supports postponing talks on Jerusalem until the end of the negotiations. During his visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority two weeks ago, Bush released a statement in which he describes how he views progress in the negotiations. According to the U.S. leader, Jerusalem is "a difficult matter," politically and religiously for both sides, and describes a solution to the issue as the most complicated challenge of the process.

The political challenges on the issue of Jerusalem focus on Shas, even though sources in Olmert's office say that "the matter for Shas is not the discussion on Jerusalem but its final outcome."

However, Shas' Council of Torah Sages met yesterday to discuss the party's red lines on negotiations with the Palestinians and decided that "the minute they begin talking on Jerusalem, Shas will immediately leave the government."

Shas leader Eli Yishai briefed the council on his latest talks with the prime minister on the negotiations with the Palestinians, and said that he had been promised "there would be no freeze to construction in Jerusalem, Ma'aleh Adumim and Beitar [Ilit]."