Many Israeli Lawmakers Against Transferring Parts of Jerusalem to Palestinians

A majority of Israeli lawmakers have signed a petition against any attempt by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to transfer parts of Jerusalem to the Palestinians, a parliamentarian said Friday, in a response to Olmert's suggestion that he would be willing to divide the disputed city.

Also Friday, a top Israeli-Palestinian team met as part of efforts to negotiate a joint statement to be revealed at a U.S.-sponsored regional conference next month. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the meeting was "in-depth" but he would not say if any progress was made. Israeli officials would not comment on the meeting that was the third between the negotiators.

The United States hopes the gathering will jump start a full renewal of talks between the sides on a final peace agreement.

Regarding Jerusalem, Olmert said last week for the first time that some Arab neighborhoods of the city might not remain under Israeli control in the future. He has not said if Israel has offered any concessions on the disputed holy city in talks with the Palestinians.

Yisrael Katz of the opposition Likud Party distributed a petition calling on the prime minister not to give up any part of the city. A total of 61 lawmakers in the 120-seat Knesset signed the petition, Katz said.

"The message is clear: Olmert has no mandate to compromise on Jerusalem," Katz said Friday.

Katz said his petition was signed not only by opposition lawmakers but also by members of Olmert's coalition government — including two Cabinet ministers and 13 members of Olmert's own centrist Kadima Party.

Israeli governments have in past peace talks proposed giving up some parts of the city that Israel considers its capital but the sides never agreed on how to divide up the city and its fate was one of the main obstacles that has blocked a final peace arrangement.

The Palestinians demand the return of all of east Jerusalem, which Israel captured in 1967, including control over a disputed holy site in the walled Old City.

The new petition indicated that Olmert will find it difficult, if not impossible, to get an agreement that includes a division of Jerusalem ratified by parliament.

In proposing an Israeli concession on the city, both Olmert and his confidant and vice premier, Haim Ramon, have mentioned only outlying Arab neighborhoods far from the city center. Such a proposal is not acceptable to the Palestinians since they also want parts of the heart of the city, including the Old City, which is home to shrines holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims.