Olmert to U.S. Jews: Israel will decide on Jerusalem

What does Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert say about American Jewish groups that say he has no right to negotiate a deal that would divide Jerusalem?

Here’s what he told JTA’s Ron Kampeas at a press briefing on Monday:

“Does any Jewish organization have a right to confer upon Israel what it negotiates or not? This questions was decided a long time ago. The government of Israel has a sovereign right to negotiate anything on behalf of Israel.”

The Orthodox Union, one of the groups taking the lead in fighting against a Jerusalem deal, was quick to respond to Olmert’s comments. Here’s a statement issued by the O.U.’s president, Steve Savitsky, and its public policy director, Nathan Diament:

“In vigorously advocating for the unity of Jerusalem in the weeks leading up to the Annapolis conference, the Orthodox Union has not sought to ‘confer upon’ or dictate to the Israeli government what it has the legal right to negotiate about with Palestinian or other Arab leaders. We have, however, sought to express our heartfelt and strong view that all Jews around the globe have a stake in the holy city of Jerusalem, and that to cede portions of the city which has been the spiritual and political capital of the Jewish people for millennia is a step the government of Israel ought not take.

“In this advocacy, we are engaging in the very sort of action which Prime Minister Olmert himself welcomed when he addressed the Orthodox Union’s biennial convention in Jerusalem one year ago, when he stated: ‘I always believed, all my life in listening to the Jews who live outside the State of Israel…that it is totally inconceivable to me that when we will need you, you will stand firmly behind us 100 percent; but then when it comes to issues which may define…also the quality of your life in your communities, [we] would say, this is our issues, you are not part of it. This is impossible. We have to be able to share with you, to dialogue with you, to talk to with you, to listen to you. We don’t have to agree with you about everything, as you don’t have to agree with us about everything. But we have to be able to open ourselves to you and to talk with you.’”

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