Israeli Hopes Rise at Middle East Talks
In an article by the New York Times Saturday, the US daily sees a shift in the Camp David moods, especially among the Israelis.
Following is the full text of the article:
The Israeli peace delegation's mood shifted from dire to hopeful as officials outside Camp David said Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak believed that the chances for the summit meeting's success had improved.
Israel's Environment Minister Dalia Itzik said that Barak told her in a phone call late Friday that the odds for securing a peace agreement were now 60-40.
US President also sounded upbeat as he told reporters in Okinawa, where he is attending a meeting of leading industrial nations, that he was "hopeful."
He rearranged his schedule to return earlier on Sunday to resume his mediating work in the early evening.
But a senior Palestinian official, Mahmoud Abbas, who left Camp David earlier in the week to attend his son's wedding in the West Bank, reported no lifted spirits among the Palestinians.
Speaking to voice of Palestine radio, he offered a somewhat depressed account of the large gaps that remain between the two sides.
Given the news blackout on the negotiations, it is impossible to know what altered the Israeli and American leaders' outlooks, or indeed how much they may have improved after the meeting nearly crashed and burned on Wednesday.
Israeli officials disclosed on Saturday that the two sides were entertaining an American proposal that involved a limited sharing of sovereignty in east Jerusalem, and that Jerusalem had been the stumbling block that nearly derailed the talks.
But the American proposal was reportedly placed on the table before Clinton left for Japan early Thursday morning.
Even if the details were reported accurately, it was not clear whether further discussion on the proposal shifted the tenor of the summit meeting.
"It remains very hard going," said Richard Boucher, the State Department spokesman.
Nonetheless, the talk about Jerusalem caused a flurry of heated commentary in Israel and the Palestinian territories. If Israel accepted sharing sovereignty, even in a limited fashion, that would represent a considerable concession from the previous Israeli position.
That was that the Palestinians could control but not own some Arab neighborhoods in the contested city.
Palestinian officials, while cautioning against debating shards of leaked information, said the concession as represented did not appear to be considerable enough.
They said from the start that they demand full sovereignty in east Jerusalem.
According to officials, the peace delegations were engaged Saturday in more substantial conversations than they had expected to undertake in Clinton's absence.
Barak and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat met for the first time in five days on Thursday night. The meeting was informal, but given the acrimony that accompanied the near collapse of the talks, it was a sign of progress that they took their places on either side of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright for a dinner.
They made "dinner conversation," Boucher said.
Mr. Itzik, the minister who spoke with Barak, communicated his sentiment that Israel would now have to choose between painful concessions and a future of conflict.
The painful concession debated in Israel today involved a reported plan for granting limited sovereignty in Jerusalem to the Palestinians.
Israeli newspapers, radio and television reported that Barak was contemplating joint sovereignty in some areas of the holy city.
One newspaper, Yediot Ahronot, said Barak had agreed to a full transfer of some neighborhoods.
Rabbi Michael Melchior, a cabinet minister who has been an Israeli spokesman in the United States during the talks, said Barak was considering "administration plus" of Palestinian neighborhoods.
"It's about administration-plus, perhaps also with some symbols of sovereignty, of joint sovereignty," Rabbi Melchior said, referring to Palestinian neighborhoods outside the Old City, "at the edge of Jerusalem," like Shuafat, the refugee camp.
"This is something that I think we can accept," he said.
Barak's cabinet secretary, Yitzhak Herzog, said later that Rabbi Melchior was not speaking officially and was not fully apprised of details of the American proposal.
But Israeli journalists, based on background briefings from officials at Camp David, reported that they had been told of two variations on a plan for Jerusalem.
Both involve shrinking and expanding the city in a kind of land swap with the Palestinians, by which Jewish settlements in the West Bank that abut the city would be added to a reconfigured Jewish Jerusalem, while Palestinian neighborhoods would be given to the Palestinians -- in full or in part, depending on the variation.
Israel's Justic Minister Yossi Beilin hinted that Jerusalem might indeed be divided and said Israelis would be better off with a reconfigured, more Jewish capital city.
In a poll released Saturday, 70 percent of Israelis surveyed said they opposed any concessions on Jerusalem.
Israeli opposition leaders stepped up attacks on Barak for even considering the handover of large Arab neighborhoods.
In an interview, Ehud Olmert, the mayor of Jerusalem and a leader of the rightist Likud Party, said of Barak: "You have to give him credit: He is the prime minister, and when he is finished making his case the opposition will no longer be 70 percent. But I don't see how he can win a referendum, or an election."
Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian spokeswoman, suggested that the Israelis were conducting an internal debate. She said Rabbi Melchior had been talking about conceding to the Palestinians outlying parts of Jerusalem "which are ours anyway." - Albawaba.com
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)