Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert hinted on Monday he would be willing to give up annexed neighbourhoods in occupied east Jerusalem as Israel and Palestinians engaged in talks ahead of a peace summit.
“Was it necessary to annex the Shufat refugee camp, al-Sawahra, Walajeh and other villages and state that this is also Jerusalem? I must admit, one can ask some legitimate questions on the issue,” he told parliament.
Israel captured Arab east Jerusalem, including the Old City with its sites holy to Christianity, Islam and Judaism, during the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed it.
In 1980, parliament passed a law proclaiming it the “reunified and eternal capital of Israel,” a claim not recognised by the international community.
Olmert’s comment came amid intense talks between Israel and the Palestinians in an effort to reach understandings on the outlines of a peace deal ahead of a US-sponsored international meeting planned to take place next month in Annapolis, Maryland.
Referring to Israel’s June 1967 decision to annex occupied east Jerusalem, Olmert insinuated that the Jewish quarter in the Old City, as well as Jewish settlements in east Jerusalem, would remain under Israeli control.
“Thanks to that decision, upmarket and lively neighbourhoods such as Ramot, French Hill, Ramat Eshkol, Givat Hamiftar, Pisgat Zeev, Armon Hanatziv, Har Homa and Gilo, not to mention the Jewish quarter in the Old City, thrive on the outskirts of Jerusalem,” he said.
An Olmert aide told AFP that by listing just the Jewish rather than all the quarters of the Old City, the prime minister was not suggesting any possibility of sharing control over or dividing the historic heart of Jerusalem.
“Olmert is starting to prepare public opinion for a future agreement with the Palestinians, which would necessitate painful concessions,” a government official said.
The issue of Jerusalem — which the Palestinians demand as the capital of their promised state — is one of the most sensitive and intractable issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict along with the question of refugees.
The two sides remain at odds over the nature of a joint statement they intend to present at Annapolis, with the Palestinians demanding a clear timeframe for implementing solutions to the thorniest problems, while Israel seeks a more vague statement.
Last week, Olmert’s close ally, Deputy Prime Minister Haim Ramon, drew heavy domestic fire after saying that Israel should share sovereignty of Jerusalem with the Palestinians as part of a peace deal.