Israel, Palestinians Resume Direct Talks but Little Sign of Hope
Palestinian local administration minister Saeb Erakat and Mohammed Dahlan, head of preventive security in the Gaza Strip, met Israeli lawyer Gilad Sher, to discuss "the question of Jerusalem in particular," a Palestinian official said.
Israeli officials were unable to confirm the meeting, but the country's chief negotiator, Acting Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben Ami, who is not due to return from New York until Monday, said meetings were "now going on between our people and Palestinians.”
Speaking on the US television network CNN Sunday, he said: "This is not the moment for more and more negotiations, it is the moment to take the decisions.”
"Everybody should feel the pressure, time is running out, we need to strike a deal," he said.
"We believe that if (Palestinian leader Yasser) Arafat moves to the position of taking the top decisions, admitting the boldness and courageous attitude that (Israeli Prime Minister Ehud) Barak has shown so far, we may have a deal very soon,” he told CNN.
He said the negotiations to date have produced "very novel and very courageous" ideas about the question of Jerusalem, saying that Israel was not hardening its line, but sticking to its traditional stand over the Temple Mount, under the Mosque compound, a site holy to both Jews and Muslims.
Temple Mount was built over the site of the Jewish Second Temple, destroyed in 70 AD by the Romans. The compound's western supporting wall, often referred to as the Wailing Wall, is the holiest site in Judaism.
Known to Muslims as Al-Haram al-Sharif or the Noble Sanctuary, the compound is the third holiest site in Islam, housing the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock.
Ben Ami said: "We do believe there is a way to reconcile the position of the Palestinians and our position. We do recognize the sanctity of the place for Muslims.”
"The only thing we ask is they do not rule out or decide what is sacred to us or not. So there is a room for reconciling these two positions," he said.
Earlier, Ben Ami provoked criticism from the Palestinians with comments to Israeli radio, in which he said: "We came to the site of the Temple so we would no longer be separated from it, nor renounce our sovereignty over the site.”
"The comments of Ben Ami on the Mosque Compound represent provocation and harm the peace process," Nabil Abu Rudeina, a close Arafat adviser, told AFP.
"The Palestinians will never renounce sovereignty over the Mosque compound and the Israeli leaders have got to stop dreaming,” he added.
Meanwhile, violence flared on the ground Sunday.
Four Palestinians were injured by rubber bullets fired by Israeli troops on stone-throwing demonstrators in Gaza, and an Israeli soldier was wounded by a stone thrown by one of the some 200 Palestinian protestors, witnesses said --JERUSALEM (AFP)
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