Who's telling the truth? Despite Israeli claims that the issue of Jerusalem was not discussed in Tuesday's meeting between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian officials presented a completely different version. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that "the meeting dealt with all the issues pertaining to a final-status agreement, including Jerusalem."
A senior Palestinian source added that "we're not talking about the snow in Jerusalem, but rather, we're talking about the settlement activity in Jerusalem."
Erekat said the meeting featured in depth discussions and stressed that Israel reiterated its obligation to discuss the so-called "core issues" – borders, Jerusalem, settlements, and refugees.
A senior Palestinian official said that Jerusalem, just like other core issues, is being discussed at every meeting.
"We make it clear to the Israeli side that all the construction in Jerusalem is illegal in our view, and that in the future this construction will either be razed or be handed over to the Palestinians," the official told Ynet.
The two sides were reportedly able to make some progress by the end of the meeting.
Earlier Tuesday, PM Olmert said that the Palestinians did not bring up the issue of the postponement of talks on the status of Jerusalem.
"The issue of postponing the discussion on Jerusalem to the end of the negotiations was not brought up in talks between me and Abbas," Olmert said following the meeting. He also noted that "Israel is obligated to prevent a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, but it is not obligated to open the (Gaza) crossings."
Some progress reported. (Photo: Moshe Milner, GPO)
Addressing the question of Jerusalem, an Israeli political source said that "the issue was not brought up this evening, and you may draw any conclusion you wish. The prime minister's position is that the issue of Jerusalem is the most problematic. If this issue is brought up now, the negotiations will end."
Another political source said that "what is clear is that we are aiming for an agreement by the end of 2008 that would be acceptable to the international community and serve as a fundamental, constitutive document."
Turning his attention to the pessimism expressed by the Palestinian prime minister earlier Tuesday on the prospects of a peace deal, the source said that "Salam Fayyad indeed said this morning that an agreement will not be reached by the end of 2008, but Abbas does not necessarily agree with him.
While addressing North American Jewish leaders in Jerusalem earlier, Fayyad said "not enough has happened" since a US-hosted Middle East peace conference in November to suggest a treaty can be reached in the next 11 months.
"If indeed this is going to happen, the pace has to be stepped up and stepped up significantly," he said.
Roni Sofer and Reuters contributed to the report.