JERUSALEM — Likud leaders have again claimed that the government of Prime Minister Shimon Peres has authorized behind-the-scenes meetings aimed at dividing Jerusalem.
The charge, focused on what is for Israelis perhaps the most emotional issue in the final-status discussion with the Palestinians slated for May, brought a swift round of denials from the government.
"All the reports of plans to divide Jerusalem are false. There is no intention to divide the city," Peres said Tuesday in a meeting with a group of 50 mayors from around the world.
Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu and other Likud members kicked off the opposition's campaign against the Labor government in the May 29 elections with the charge of secret Jerusalem talks.
The Israeli daily Ha'aretz reported Tuesday that in October, Israeli representatives presented three maps outlining possible permanent settlements for the division of Jerusalem to Faisal Husseini, the top Palestine Liberation Organization official in Jerusalem.
Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert, a member of Likud, said the incident was a grave matter, because it would give the Palestinians a pre-negotiating stand.
They would "know that there is something to talk about with Israel, including the division of sovereignty in the city," Olmert said.
The maps were prepared by Israeli academics at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Research. According to Olmert, the maps were conveyed to Cabinet minister Yossi Beilin, who in turn passed them on to two professors, Ron Pundak and Yair Hirschfeld. The academics were involved in the secret contacts with the PLO that led to the first Israel-PLO agreement in September 1993.
Both academics, as well as Beilin, denied any involvement with the documents.
According to the institute's Abraham Friedman, the maps were prepared only as possible suggestions.
They were shown to Beilin, as well as to members of the opposition, including Olmert, with the understanding that they were confidential, Friedman said.
According to Ha'aretz, which received a copy of the documents, the institute recommended that "new approaches to the question of sovereignty" be addressed in the negotiations.
One of the options suggested was Palestinian sovereignty over part of the eastern half of the city. At the same time, the boundaries of the Israeli capital would be significantly enlarged to include certain satellite communities.
Another proposal called for maintaining full Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem while creating separate Jewish and Palestinian boroughs within the city.
Earlier this year, media reports claimed that Beilin and Palestinian officials were involved in secret contacts over the future of Jerusalem. At the time, Beilin rejected the reports, saying that no official negotiations have taken place.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said in an interview in January that there had been "consultations" between Israeli and Palestinian academics on the future of Jerusalem.
But, repeating Beilin's stance, he said the discussions were not government-level talks that had taken place secretly.