Top Palestinian official praises Livni's stance on Jerusalem

Chief Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qureia on Monday praised a decision by Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to reject an ultra-Orthodox party's demand to drop Jerusalem from the negotiating agenda, as the price for joining her prospective coalition, dpa reported.

Livni's refusal to accept the demand by the Shas party led the faction to announce that it would not join a government headed by her, and spelled the end of her chances of forming a coalition to replace the government headed by Ehud Olmert, who resigned the premiership on September 21.

The daily Jerusalem Post reported that Qureia told a forum in the Israeli city of Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv, that he appreciated Livni's decision to stand her ground on the matter and respected that she chose to forgo a coalition rather than give up talks on Jerusalem.

He said that Jerusalem, a core issue on the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, was the key to a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

Palestinians want largely Muslim populated East Jerusalem, which Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East War, as the capital of their future state. But Shas and hawkish and religious Jews insist that East Jerusalem, which contains Judaism's holiest sites, should remain under Israeli control.

"There can be no peace without Jerusalem," the Post quoted Qureia as saying. "How can the Palestinians agree to such a peace? If you want peace, you have to put Jerusalem on the table."

Qureia, the chief Palestinian negotiator in the ongoing peace talks, said that Livni, who heads the Israeli team, did not say she would give up Jerusalem, "but she will leave it on the table."

He said that Israel's current political impasse and Palestinian internal difficulties made it unlikely the teams would strike a deal by their self-imposed deadline of the end of the year.

Israeli President Shimon Peres tasked Livni on September 22 with forming a new government. However, the Shas refusal to join a coalition leaves her with no option but to tell Peres that she could not assemble a viable coalition, and on Monday afternoon Peres gave the green light for new elections to be held, most likely early next year.

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