Camp David Talks Slow for Jewish Sabbath Amid Rancor over US Jerusalem Plans
The Camp David peace talks slowed Friday with the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath amid rancor over US proposals for Jerusalem but an apparent easing of tension as the summit entered its 11th day with negotiators awaiting the return of President Bill Clinton.
Following the first face-to-face meeting in a week between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat late Thursday, members of their delegations, along with US negotiators, agreed to hold a pick-up basketball game before a Shabbat dinner after sundown.
"We've heard a lot of people are showing up, but I don't expect all the leaders to be there," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said of the dinner hosted by the Israelis. "We'll see."
Boucher, speaking to reporters at the summit press center in Thurmont, said despite the lessening formality of the talks, the two sides remained serious and committed to reaching a peace pact.
"Serious efforts are under way by the negotiators, led by their leadership, to try to deal with these issues," he said. "Nonetheless it remains very hard going ... The issues are tough and they're really trying to deal with them."
And, although the summit moved toward suspended animation in the aftermath of Arafat and Barak conversation over Thursday's buffet dinner hosted by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, their surrogates jousted over US power-sharing proposals for Jerusalem.
Control of Jerusalem, the most divisive issue between the two sides, appeared to hinge on the acceptance of options presented by Clinton before he left for Japan early Thursday, including one which postpones a decision on the status of the Old City, where most holy sites are located.
Israeli minister without portfolio Michael Melchior said Barak had agreed to a US plan which would offer the Palestinians a type of joint sovereignty over certain areas in the city's eastern sector, home to some 200,000 Arabs.
"We are speaking of administrative powers 'plus' with signs of sovereignty, a type of joint sovereignty over these districts but excluding the Old City," Melchior told Israel public radio.
A source close to the Israeli delegation at Camp David said that "joint sovereignty" had not been proposed.
But the source confirmed Barak had agreed to a plan in which "some Arab neighborhoods in east Jerusalem would revert to full Palestinian control in exchange for the annexation of Jewish neighborhoods currently outside the municipal boundaries."
"The Americans have proposed ideas just short of sovereignty," the source said.
Details of the plan were sketchy, but it appeared to be a hybrid of US ideas and an earlier Israeli proposal rejected by Arafat that called for dividing east Jerusalem into three sectors.
Under that plan, one sector would be under full Israeli control, another would be under Palestinian control but without sovereignty, and in a third the Palestinians would have civilian authority but not security control.
According to Palestinian sources, it also called for putting the al-Aqsa mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam, under the custody of the United Nations and certain Arab and Islamic nations, and allowing the Palestinians to raise their flag there.
As negotiators haggled over the details at Camp David, polls by two Israeli media organizations found a majority of Israelis opposed to a peace deal that involved handing any part of east Jerusalem to the Palestinians.
Israel occupied east Jerusalem in 1967, and then annexed it, claiming it as part of its eternal undivided capital, a position not recognized by the international community.
Arafat is demanding a return to the 1967 borders and has refused to accept anything less than full sovereignty over east Jerusalem, which he wants as the capital of an independent Palestinian state. He has vowed to declare independence by September 13th, the deadline for a final peace deal.
After Arafat's rejection of the proposal, which included joint administration of holy places, US mediators offered the idea of freezing a decision on sovereignty over the Old City, according to sources close to the talks.
"The essence of the proposal is postponing the question of sovereignty of Jerusalem only in the Old City," one source told AFP. The source said the length of the delay was ambiguous, defined only as "a few years."
The source said Arafat had rejected that idea as well, a position that appeared to be confirmed by the PLO representative in Washington, Hassan Abdel-Rahman.
"We refuse to accept anything that will not give us sovereignty over the 1967 borders, including the Old City," Abdel-Rahman told AFP.
Israeli sources said unless Arafat agrees to one of the US suggestions by Sunday, the earliest day Clinton can return to the talks, Barak will leave Camp David and remove all proposals from the table -- THURMONT, Maryland (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)