While the fate of Jerusalem, a city where the very stones bear witness to centuries of religious faith, is the toughest issue up for discussion at the Camp David summit, Israel indicated again Thursday that it would be willing to strike a limited deal with the Palestinians.
According to the Haaretz daily, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak brought to the summit with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat at Camp David a plan that would give the Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem wide-ranging autonomy.
Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh said Israel would be willing to compromise on municipal-level matters, provided it retained sovereignty over the whole city.
"It is a complex problem, but we must stick to our 'red line', which is that the city must not be divided. That means we have to be flexible and creative at the municipal level," he told Israeli radio.
"We can be flexible about such matters as rubbish disposal, water, electricity and health care," Sneh added.
But it appeared unlikely that the Palestinians could accept such a compromise.
Israel insists that all of Jerusalem must remain its own united, eternal capital.
The Palestinians, however, demand sovereignty over east Jerusalem, which contains the tiny walled Old City, a living reliquary containing the most holy sites in Judaism and Christianity, and among the most important shrines in Islam.
Israeli Justice Minister Yossi Beilin, an architect of the 1993 Oslo peace accords, said the Jerusalem dilemma was largely symbolic.
"Jerusalem is only difficult because of the perception, because of the emotions and because of the symbols," Beilin said earlier this week.
"It is not a real problem like security. If you can solve the symbolic problem with symbolic solutions, then you can have a real solutions to the problem."
Beilin said that if the specific needs of Jerusalem's Jewish, Muslim and Christian residents were met, the issue of sovereignty would become theoretical.
"If they get to the question of who is the owner, who is the landlord of this city, then the talks are doomed to fail," Beilin said.
The most senior Palestinian official for Jerusalem affairs, Faisal Husseini, said Palestinians envisioned a united city that could be the capital of both Israel and a future Palestinian state.
"This city will be an open city. The east will be a Palestinian capital. The west side will be an Israeli capital, but the city itself will be open," Husseini said.
He added that on September 13th, the date the Palestine Liberation Organization's Central Council has set for implementing independence at all costs, Palestinian flags would be flown from all homes and businesses in east Jerusalem - OCCUPIED JERUSALEM (AFP)
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