More on Jerusalem negotiations

Arlene Kushner

It’s a balagan (a confused situation) and could make you crazy if you try to make sense out of what you read in the press:

— Olmert has denied that Jerusalem is being discussed in negotiations; Qurei doesn’t set the agenda for talks, he insists.

— Shas, which is eager to remain in the government, has accepted this denial, and is staying “for now.” The charade of staying in a government that wants to divide Jerusalem eventually, even if (a big if) perhaps it is not doing so at the moment, is breathtaking.

— Nir Barkat, a member of the Jerusalem City Council, says that he has evidence from “secret sources” that in secret meetings Israel and the PA have already agreed on dividing Jerusalem. Livni, he says, knows about this secret channel and thus is complicit. In correspondence with Livni, Barkat has written that “”I would like to remind you that if this is true, it constitutes a complete deviation from Kadima’s basic principles, a blatant violation of Basic Law: Jerusalem, a breach of the voter’s trust and an undermining of the Knesset’s sovereignty.”


And so, I have now gone to my own very knowledgeable “secret source,” who is happy to share information with me provided that his name is not used. Some of what he says many of you will already have intuited or understood from various public sources; what he does is provide confirmation. But he also offers details, perspective, and additional information that is likely to be new to most.

There are, says my source, three channels of negotiations:

First there is the Ehud Olmert-Mahmoud Abbas channel. They are establishing basic principles only and not dealing with details. They do not write anything down, they simply talk. And thus they have deniability. There is no question that they have discussed Jerusalem and have agreed in principle that it will be shared. Abbas makes no compromises; in all instances where agreement is reached, it is because Olmert has acceded to a PA demand.

Then there are the day-to-day negotiations of teams headed by Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Ahmed Qurei, former PA prime minister. These negotiations involve written notes and so both sides are fearful of committing themselves prematurely. For this reason, there has been no progress on major issues; it is with regard to this level that it is said that talks are frozen. The teams are restricting themselves to discussing “pragmatics.” As far as Jerusalem is concerned, they are talking about such matters as building in various neighborhoods and the possibility of re-opening Orient House. But my observation is that as much as this is called “pragmatic” it is ultimately political: To give Fatah a presence in Jerusalem, for example, is to concede that part of Jerusalem will belong to Fatah.


Finally, there is the back-channel, which is what Barkat was alluding to (and he has details correct). It is also what Palestinians I’ve cited in recent days were referring to: on the table and under the table, open and secret meetings, etc.

The person representing Israel in these meetings is Deputy Premier Haim Ramon. He began these meetings in Rome, shortly after Fatah lost Gaza. At that time he met with Salam Fayyad, who was named PA prime minister when Abbas reconstituted his government after the Gaza rout. But the Fatah powers objected to this, because Fayyad was willing to make some compromises and they want NO compromises. What sort of compromises was Fayyad willing to consider? Maybe half a million refugees returned to Israel instead of all four million. Maybe the PA would get all of eastern Jerusalem except for the Kotel, which would remain Israeli. Fayyad was not powerful enough to withstand Fatah objections.

And so now strong man Mohammad Rashid is negotiating with Ramon.


Rashid was a trusted confident of Arafat and was deeply involved in financial shenanigans of the PA (as was Qurei, incidentally). And Rashid and Ramon are business partners. What is more, Haim Ramon has a direct connection with South African/Austrian multi-millionaire businessman Martin Schlaff, who is shoulder-deep in issues of corruption in this country. Or, as Gidi Weitz and Uri Blau describe him in Haaretz in a recent major expose on these issues, Schlaff plays “the role of the omnipotent Jewish gvir [patron] who wants to manage the affairs of the Middle Eastern shtetl.”

Anyone familiar with the investigations of Ariel Sharon will know the name Schlaff. More recently there are corruption investigations involving Schlaff with Olmert and Lieberman. Schlaff won’t set foot in Israel now, for fear of being immediately arrested. For a summary of this, far briefer than the very extensive Haaretz article, see:


My source tells me that whatever Ramon and Rashid might come up with in terms of an agreement will not be accepted by the PA because of the intransigence of Fatah with regard to any compromises. Remember that Farouk Kadoumi, who was opposed totally to Oslo, has huge influence on the Central Committee of Fatah.

And from our side, dear Heaven, do we need to clean house!


Interesting: Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s eldest son, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef, has come out with a position that opposes his father’s. He says Shas must quit the government immediately because support for Olmert’s government endangers Jews.

But rabbis from Sderot have gone to see Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, to try to convince him that it was important that Shas leave the government, and they came away terribly frustrated.

I’ve asked myself what it might be that would convince Ovadia Yosef that Shas should pull out. And I have no answers. I do not know Rabbi Yosef and certainly cannot see into his head.

And so, it’s difficult to be certain if this is relevant now (and yet hard to believe it’s not): The Haaretz expose says that Shas faction head Eli Yishai was known to be present at a February 2001 meeting with Rashid, Ramon and Schlaff. And that Aryeh Deri — who was head of the Shas faction until he was convicted of corruption in 1999 and sentenced to three years in prison — has Schlaff connections, both business and personal. Just months ago, Schlaff held a reception in Vienna on the occasion of his grandson’s brit milah. The contingent from Israel included Aryeh Deri, who presided over the circumcision. (Ramon was also there, incidentally.)

February 14, 2008 | Comments »

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