Israel says no to talks on Jerusalem in current round

Israel Friday rejected Palestinians demands to include Jerusalem in the current round of peace negotiations between the sides, and said it had protested a remark by the US Consul General to the region that it had agreed to do so, reported dpa.

A government official said Israel had expressed its "displeasure" to the US over the remark by US Consul General Jake Walles, who told the Palestinian al-Ayyam daily in an interview published Thursday that the parties had agreed to negotiate a Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 borders, which he said included East Jerusalem and part of the Dead Sea.

He was referring to the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, during which Israel captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan and the Gaza Strip from Egypt.

"It was agreed at Annapolis (peace summit in Novemberr) that the content of these discussions will remain secret, that a high level of confidentiality is essential if this process is to succeed, and we were therefore surprised at the consul general's remarks," the official told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack issued a clarification Thursday, saying the US government "has not taken a position" on the issue of borders.

The Israeli official stressed to dpa that Israel had agreed "in principle" to negotiate all of the core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including Jerusalem.

He said however that the highly-sensitive issue had not been debated as yet, and hinted it would not in the current round of talks, which are nearing an end-of-year deadline.

"We agreed in principle at Annapolis to discuss with the Palestinians all the core issues. So far that has not happened. We have not discussed Jerusalem and we have actually proposed that Jerusalem be discussed in a separate mechanism. We think the current round cannot succeed if the Jerusalem issue is also put into the package," he said.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has rejected the Israeli proposal to try and meet the deadline by reaching an agreement that leaves out Jerusalem, but settles on paper other key issues.

He reiterated his demand for an agreement on all issues in an interview with the Israeli Ha'aretz daily published Friday.

"Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed," Abbas told Ha'aretz on the 15th anniversary of the signing of the interim Oslo peace accords, which created Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza and marked the start of negotiations on a final peace deal that what see the establishment of a Palestinian state there.

Ha'aretz said Abbas expressed doubt a peace agreement could be reached by the end of 2008. None of the six core issues of the conflict with Israel had yet been resolved, he said.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's spokesman, Mark Regev, had said Thursday that "very important progress" had been made on the issue of borders, "though gaps do still exist."

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