- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Israel’s foreign minister said yesterday that Israel will give all possible help for the Palestinians to hold elections in January but that the 200,000 Arabs who live in East Jerusalem would not be allowed to vote there.

“There will be no elections in Jerusalem,” although the Palestinians will be able to vote by mail, as they have in the past, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said.

“Jerusalem is the eternal capital — undivided capital — of Israel, and of course we will do everything to keep it that way,” Mr. Shalom said after a meeting with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.

Speaking earlier at a conference of North American Jews in Cleveland, Mr. Shalom said Israel might coordinate next year’s Gaza Strip pullout with the Palestinian Authority if it cracked down on militants.

The remark was taken as a significant policy reversal, indicating that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is changing his approach after the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Mr. Sharon until now had presented the planned removal of all 21 Jewish settlements from Gaza and four from the West Bank as “unilateral disengagement,” rejecting contacts with the Palestinians because, he charged, Mr. Arafat’s regime was tainted with terrorism.

“If the new leadership on the Palestinian side acts to combat terror, then we will be able to consider coordinating aspects of the ‘day after’ [in Gaza] with them,” Mr. Shalom said in Cleveland.

He also told reporters that, beyond the issue of the Gaza pullout, “we want responsible Palestinian leadership to take control, and afterward maybe to resume [peace] negotiations.”

Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat said he suspected the Israelis would propose too many conditions for coordinating the Gaza pullout.

“Israel should talk to us unconditionally,” Mr. Erekat said. “This line of conditioning things … has been the way [Israel] handles things.”

The Palestinians are determined to take over the eastern part of Jerusalem as their capital once they establish a state. That sector was under Jordan’s control before Israel captured it in the 1967 Middle East war.

The Israeli government worries that the Palestinians’ position would be strengthened should the Arabs living there participate in the balloting on Jan. 9 for leaders to succeed Mr. Arafat.

The longtime Palestinian leader’s death last week has prompted the Bush administration to encourage democratic rule within the Palestinian hierarchy, with the elections to be a big step in that direction.

“Everything that is needed will be given to them in order to ensure that they will have the possibility to elect their new leadership,” Mr. Shalom said at a press conference with Mr. Powell.

“We would like to see this new leadership is moving toward a better peace, better understanding with Israel, to move toward peace with Israel, but there are no shortcuts,” the foreign minister said.

Mr. Powell, who announced his resignation earlier yesterday, said, “We are going to keep moving forward. It’s the president’s policies that are being pursued and implemented, not Colin Powell’s.”

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