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Tuesday, 26 September, 2000, 13:19 GMT 14:19 UK
'International' Jerusalem high on the agenda
Jerusalem skyline
The future of Jerusalem remains unresolved
By Middle East analyst Roger Hardy

In the two months since the unsuccessful Camp David Middle East summit, a bewildering array of ideas have been floated on how to resolve the main problem, the future of the holy city of Jerusalem.

As long ago as 1947 the United Nations proposed internationalising the city. Now the idea has reappeared in a controversial new form.

During their two weeks of often stormy meetings at Camp David, Israelis and Palestinians broke new ground on refugees, settlements and borders, and they laid the groundwork for a future Palestinian state - until recently an Israeli taboo.

But it was on the question of Jerusalem that the most dramatic shift occurred, and it is Jerusalem which has so far wrecked the chances of a deal.

No compromise

Ever since Israel captured the eastern half of Jerusalem in 1967, thereby bringing the whole city under its control, successive Israeli leaders have solemnly declared it to be the country's eternal and undivided capital.

That sent a message to the Arabs that the issue was non-negotiable. Since becoming prime minister in 1999, Ehud Barak has stuck to the slogan.

But at Camp David he offered the Palestinians sovereignty over parts of East Jerusalem, thereby breaking the taboo.

In Israeli terms, it was a daring initiative. But for the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat it was not enough.

He stuck to his demand that the whole of East Jerusalem should come under Palestinian sovereignty, as the capital of a Palestinian state. This led the Camp David summit to break up without an agreement.

Muslim proposal

But since then the Palestinians too, albeit cautiously, have shifted their ground. To shield himself from criticism, Mr Arafat has circled the globe consulting as many world leaders as possible, and in particular sounding out Muslim opinion on the Jerusalem issue.

Ehud Barak
Ehud Barak has faced right-wing criticism
One idea raised was for Muslim sovereignty over the part of the city which Muslims call the Haram al-Sharif - the Noble Sanctuary - and Jews call the Temple Mount. The Israelis rejected this.

But other ideas for "internationalising" Temple Mount are still on the table.

The most significant is a proposal that the area come under the sovereignty of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council - the US, Russia, Britain, France and China.

This is already proving controversial in Israel, which throughout its history has had an uneasy relationship with the UN.

Right-wingers accuse Mr Barak of betrayal for even considering such a plan.

Delicate issue

So touchy is the proposal that no one wants to admit proposing it. Yasser Arafat remains nervous about Muslim reaction.

Shlomo Ben Ami
Shlomo Ben-Ami seems to advocate concessions
But the plan is in keeping with ideas put forward by Egypt, his most important Arab ally, and it is likely he is ready to explore it.

And if the Palestinians are hiding behind Egypt, the Israelis are hiding behind the Americans.

Many believe the scheme is the brainchild of Israel's acting foreign minister, Shlomo Ben-Ami, but Israeli officials find it safer to call it an American initiative.

But for President Clinton, the issue is also a hot potato. He is afraid that if he openly promotes a controversial plan for Jerusalem, there may be criticism from the American Jewish community.

This could damage the prospects of his friend Al Gore who is fighting to become the next president, and hurt his wife Hillary who is running for the Senate in a hotly contested race in New York.

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See also:

25 Sep 00 | Middle East
Arafat and Barak hold talks
20 Sep 00 | Middle East
Palestinians confused by on-off talks
11 Sep 00 | Middle East
Clinton's elusive Mid-East dream
11 Sep 00 | Middle East
Arafat applauded for statehood delay
20 Jul 00 | Mideast Peace Process
Jerusalem: Eternal, intractable
15 Sep 00 | Middle East
US push to break Mid-East deadlock
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