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Middle East & Israel Breaking News » Israel » Article

Olmert moves to keep Kadima united

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Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will deliver a major policy address on diplomatic issues for the first time in several months at Thursday's Kadima council meeting at the party's Petah Tikva headquarters.

MK Menachem Ben Sasson speaks...

MK Menachem Ben Sasson speaks at the inauguration of the Jerusalem branch of Kadima.
Photo: Ariel Jerozolimski

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The meeting comes amid a conflict in Kadima over Vice Premier Haim Ramon's recent statements about dividing Jerusalem. Ramon's words angered officials in the Prime Minister's Office and the Foreign Ministry, as well as Kadima ministers, who will use their speeches at the event to call upon Olmert to rule out dividing Jerusalem.

"Olmert will attempt to ease the tension in the party," a source close to the prime minister said. "He will deliver a broad diplomatic address that will explain exactly what he intends to do with the Palestinians."

The ideological battle over Jerusalem in Kadima is symbolic for a party led by Olmert, who, as Jerusalem mayor, often declared that the capital would never be divided, but spoke about giving up the city's Arab neighborhoods in his first interviews as prime minister.

Kadima's new Jerusalem branch was inaugurated Wednesday by Olmert's ally, MK Menahem Ben-Sasson, who spoke about the importance of maintaining a Jewish majority in the city. The council meeting, which will focus on diplomatic issues for the first time, will allow all of Kadima's leaders to outline their diplomatic plans.

Party officials said that by the end of the night it would be clear who represented the right, center and left flanks inside Kadima. Until now, Ramon has been seen as the leader of the left in the party, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz the right and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni the center.

The controversy started when Jerusalem City Council opposition leader Nir Barkat of Kadima asked Ramon to clarify his position on the capital. Ramon responded in a letter to Barkat that the capital's Jewish neighborhoods would remain under Israeli sovereignty, and the Arab neighborhoods would be Palestinian. Ramon said there would be "special sovereignty" over the city's holy sites, and that the Western Wall, the Jewish Quarter and other holy sites in the Jerusalem vicinity would remain under Israeli sovereignty "forever."

Ramon's associates said he merely stated his own positions that he has favored for many years, since long before he joined Kadima. They said his views had become mainstream and were even adopted by Israel Beiteinu.

"What I say about Jerusalem is in line with Kadima's platform and principles," Ramon told the party activist Web site, Yalla Kadima. "We want Israel to be a democratic Jewish state. There will be territorial exchanges. In Jerusalem, what is Arab will be Palestinian and what is Jewish will be Israeli in order to ensure that Jerusalem will maintain a decisive Jewish majority. That fits with what we had in mind when we formed Kadima."

Asked about reports that he backed Israel already withdrawing from Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem in upcoming months, Ramon said: "I don't think any steps should be taken until the Palestinians fulfill their security commitments in the road map. It's not right to deal with issues of disagreement now, and that's true with Jerusalem and the refugees."

Kadima politicians lashed out at Ramon, accusing him of trying to instill views that are "left of Meretz" over the centrist party.

"Ramon spoke for himself only," Public Security Minister Avi Dichter said. "His views are not those of Kadima. Most of the party opposes them. Kadima's views are its platform, which calls for an undivided Jerusalem and not skipping the Palestinian commitments in the road map. No one has a mandate to change that unilaterally."

Barkat, who wants to run for Jerusalem mayor under Kadima's banner, wrote Olmert a letter Wednesday demanding that he distance himself from Ramon's statements. He said he could not remain in a party that would divide Jerusalem.

Opposition MKs said they were sure Ramon's statements were a "trial balloon" floated by Olmert to test the waters of public opinion ahead of the November summit in Washington with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

"Haim Ramon is the face of this government," National Union MK Zvi Hendel said. "There is no greater embarrassment than the fact that a convicted sex offender with no morals is now making crazy moves to divide Jerusalem under Olmert's auspices. He should have left politics in shame forever."•

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