February 20, 2008 - 6:54pm

Likud leader and chairman of the opposition MK Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that the Olmert government is taking measures to divide Jerusalem, and urged the key Shas party to bolt the coalition and topple the government in order "to save Jerusalem."

Netanyahu was reacting to ongoing wrangling between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas over Olmert's assertion that the sides had agreed to defer discussions over the status of Jerusalem to a future final phase of negotiations.

"This weak government is prepared to give away Jerusalem, and is acting in order to give it away," Netanyahu said. "All its denials and attempts at whitewashing will do no good."

Officials of the ultra-Orthodox Shas have warned Olmert that they view negotiations over a future division of the city as a red line that would spur them to part ways with the ruling coalition.

Netanyahu said he believed Shas leaders' statements that they want to safeguard a Jerusalem united under Israeli rule. But he added, "Why are you still in the government? Why are you granting Olmert a carpet so that he can cede Jerusalem?"

Shas leaders "say they are waiting for a signed document. But in the current situation, we will not be able to recant. I repeat: Shas, what are you doing there? Get out of the government and save Jerusalem."

A senior official in the Prime Minister's Office said after Olmert-Abbas talks Tuesday that "The issue of Jerusalem did not come up in the discussion. I'm not aware of changes in the Israeli position."

But Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat disputed the claim, saying the leaders had discussed "all the core issues" and that Abbas and Olmert did in fact discuss the contentious topic of Jerusalem during their meeting earlier that evening.

Meanwhile, Abbas and Olmert agreed on Wednesday to expand their negotiations to topics beyond the "core issues" of borders, Jerusalem and the refugees: Within two weeks, teams will be set up to discuss at least seven other issues.

The two assigned the heads of the negotiating teams on the core issues - Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and former Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qureia - the job of deciding exactly which issues the new task forces should begin discussing, and Livni hopes to reach an agreement with Qureia on this matter soon.

While the foreign minister would prefer the talks on the core issues to take place in maximum secrecy, the talks on the new issues will be conducted with far greater openness, which she hopes will attract media attention and thereby create a feeling of momentum in the negotiations.

One of the most important new issues on which Israel hopes to begin talks is the development of a "culture of peace," with an emphasis on ending incitement to terrorism.


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