Israelis and Palestinians continued to wrestle Friday with the intractable problem of sovereignty over Jerusalem's holy places, with the hope that compromises being drafted by Washington might produce a face-saving solution.
The Israeli daily Haaretz reported Friday that Israel was now pushing for sovereignty over the sites sacred to both Jews and Muslims to be vested with the permanent members of the UN Security Council.
The move was the latest effort to break the deadlock over the site known as Temple Mount to the Israelis and the Noble Sanctuary to the Palestinians and open the way to a final peace settlement between the two sides, the paper said.
The daily added that Egypt, France, the United States and United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan were among the principal backers of the scheme.
It said Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak had asked French President Jacques Chirac for his support given France's current position as head of the European Union as well as a permanent member of the Security Council.
The other permanent members are Britain, China, Russia and the United States.
However, Israel's acting Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben Ami already dismissed Thursday the idea of transferring sovereignty over the area to the Security Council.
"The Security Council idea is floating around in lots of places. I heard it from (Egyptian Foreign Minister) Amr Moussa, the French are also dealing with it, but I have not heard of the need to transfer sovereignty to the Security Council," he said in a television interview.
But Ben Ami did not rule out UN control over the area.
Haaretz said that Barak had told Chirac that Israel rejects the Palestinian claim to sovereignty over Temple Mount, which is both the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam.
But it would accept the current position, where the mount, location of the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, is managed by the Waqf, an Islamic administrative body.
Underneath the mount are the vestiges of the Jewish Second Temple destroyed by the Romans in AD 70. Only the Western, or Wailing, Wall remains.
The complex is located within the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem captured and annexed by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war. Israel has declared Jerusalem its undivided and eternal capital, while the Palestinians want the eastern sector containing the Old City the capital of a future separate state.
Ben Ami, who in earlier interview Thursday had backed the status quo as preferable, said "our position is that we cannot give up sovereignty over the place of the Temple, but we have no claims over the sites holy to Islam."
"Just as we recognize Islam's holy sites, we need recognition on Islam's part of our connection to ... the site of the Temple.
Ben Ami said that no proposal regarding the possible division of sovereignty on Temple Mount had been presented by US officials.
He said Washington was drafting a document summarizing the Israeli and Palestinian positions on all the core issues in the conflict: sovereignty over Jerusalem, the final borders and status of the Palestinian areas and the fate of Palestinian refugees and Jewish settlements.
But he added: "If the Americans conclude that they cannot put forward a package deal, they could give up. They are aware of the fact that this is the last chance."
Time is running out for an agreement with the US elections coming up in November, US President Bill Clinton leaving the White House and the Israeli parliament threatening to bring down the government of Prime Minister Ehud Barak -- JERUSALEM (AFP)
© 1969 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )