"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 Mount.
"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."
Reprinted by permission of WorldNetDaily.com