Image: Ehud Olmert, Avigdor Lieberman
Emilio Morenatti  /  AP file
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, background, and Deputy Prime Minister Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the right wing Yisrael Beiteinu party, hold a session in the Knesset, Israel's Parliament, in Jerusalem in November 2006.
updated 10/28/2007 7:27:20 AM ET 2007-10-28T11:27:20

A key partner in the coalition of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned Sunday that he would withdraw from the government if an upcoming Israeli-Palestinian meeting includes negotiations on core issues of the conflict.

The threat by Deputy Prime Minister Avigdor Lieberman limits Olmert’s ability to maneuver in the talks with the Palestinians, which have been renewed in recent months after seven years of fighting. A withdrawal of Lieberman’s Israel Beiteinu Party from the coalition would weaken Olmert politically.

The Palestinians are demanding that the U.S.-sponsored conference to be held by the end of the year include talks on the major hurdles preventing a final peace agreement, including the fate of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees and the borders of a Palestinian state.

While Lieberman’s threat was not new, he has been making it more leading up to the meeting.

“We won’t remain partners in the government if there will be significant negotiations on the core subjects,” Lieberman told Army Radio.

Any agreement with the Palestinians must not include a concession by Israel on its control over Jerusalem’s disputed holy sites nor a symbolic return of Palestinian refugees, Lieberman said. A confidant of Olmert, Vice Premier Haim Ramon, has hinted that he has discussed such Israeli offers in talks with the Palestinians.

Lieberman said he is also opposed to a connection between the West Bank and Gaza Strip over Israel, which Israel has reportedly offered in the talks.

The Palestinians insist they be able to establish a capital of a future state in east Jerusalem, where the holy sites of both sides are located. Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and later annexed it, calling the entire city its capital.

The Palestinians also want hundreds of thousands of refugees who fled or were displaced by fighting that led to Israel’s establishment in 1948, and their descendants, to be able to return to their former homes.

Palestinian negotiators have reportedly agreed to exchange West Bank territory they want for a state — where Jewish settlement blocs are located — for Israeli land that would connect between the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

Negotiators were slated later this week to meet ahead of a visit in early November to the region by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

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