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Israeli PM claims holy site not up for talks, but Palestinians say he has already agreed to forfeiture

Aaron Klein, WND – YNET Published: 11.29.07, 18:25 / Israel News,7340,L-3477322,00.html

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s statements on Wednesday that Israel’s
sovereignty over the Temple Mount is not up for negotiation are “false,”
according to a chief Palestinian negotiator, who told WND the Israeli leader
already agreed to forfeit Judaism’s holiest site to a coalition of Arab

“What Olmert said (regarding the Mount) is absolutely false. I think he’s
not yet ready to tell the Israeli public and is waiting for the right time
and he fears his coalition with religious extremists will fall apart if he
announces it now,” said a senior Palestinian negotiator Thursady on
condition his name be withheld.

The chief Palestinian negotiator said in months leading up to Annapolis the
Palestinian team was “surprised” by Olmert’s willingness to give up the

“We had intense debates on many topics, which remain open and unsettled, but
the Harem Al-Sharif (Temple Mount) is not a sticking point. The Israelis
didn’t argue with us. We were pleasantly surprised Olmert didn’t debate
about giving the lower section of the Mount either, which was a sticking
point in the past.”

According to the chief Palestinian negotiator, Olmert agreed to evacuate the
Mount but not to turn it over to the Palestinians alone. The negotiator said
both sides agreed the Temple Mount would be given to joint Egypt, Jordan and
Palestinian Authority control.

He said the Israeli government felt an umbrella group of several Arab
countries controlling the holy site instead of only the PA would help ease
Israeli domestic opposition to giving up the Temple Mount, since Egypt and
Jordan are considered by Israeli policy to be moderate countries.

‘Talks will address all issues’

The Palestinian negotiator pointed out Israeli prime ministers previously
denied withdrawal plans only to later carry them out. Former Prime Minister
Ariel Sharon, elected on a platform against evacuating territory, denied for
his first year in office he would retreat from the Gaza Strip but in 2005 he
carried out a Gaza withdrawal.

In a briefing to reporters yesterday, Olmert claimed Israel’s sovereignty
over the Temple Mount is not up for discussion. He said negotiations started
at this week’s Annapolis summit had no bearing on the situation on the
Temple Mount.

At the start of Tuesday’s summit, President Bush read a joint declaration
agreed to by Olmert and PA President Mahmoud Abbas committing the two to
launch immediate negotiations aimed at “two states, Israel and Palestine,
living side by side.”

The parties said they would aim to conclude an agreement before Bush leaves
office next year, with Israel widely expected to evacuate large swaths of
the West Bank and speculation about eastern sections of Jerusalem, handing
Abbas the strategic territories. Israel recaptured the West Bank and eastern
Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount, in 1967.

“The negotiations will address all of the issues which we have thus far
avoided dealing with,” said Olmert on Tuesday. “I am convinced that the
reality that emerged in our region in 1967 will change significantly. I know
this. Many of my people know this. We are prepared for it.”

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