US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will travel to the Middle East next week to try to remove obstacles blocking an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, reported CNN.com Friday.
US President Bill Clinton made the announcement after a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak in Lisbon Portugal.
An Israeli government spokesman was quoted by the report as saying Albright would arrive on Monday and hold separate talks with Barak and Arafat. Clinton said he would meet Arafat after his return to Washington next week.
Barak's trip to Lisbon to meet the US president highlighted one of the chief obstacles to a settlement -- the future of Jerusalem.
The meeting fell on Israel's Jerusalem Day, a day of celebration to mark the anniversary of the day in 1967 that Israeli forces occupied east Jerusalem.
Barak's meeting with Clinton, which had been originally scheduled for Berlin later in the day, was moved forward so the prime minister could return to Israel in time for the celebrations.
Barak did not want to miss the celebrations and leave himself open to charges from opponents that he had shifted from his previously espoused position that "Jerusalem will remain forever Israel's permanent and undivided capital."
HARD-LINERS OBJECT TO JERUSALEM DISCUSSIONS
The CNN said the hard-line nationalists and religious nationalists who shape much of the celebrations of Jerusalem Day object to the future of Jerusalem even being a subject for negotiations with the Palestinians.
But Barak supporters argue that not discussing Jerusalem would be counterproductive.
"By not referring to Jerusalem in the context of a permanent solution, Jerusalem will not become recognized as our capital," said Israeli Justice Minister Yossi Beilin.
"Only negotiations on Jerusalem will make this very important city the capital of Israel, recognized not only by the US but by the whole world," Beilin was quoted as saying.
Barak is also facing criticism over his proposal to hand over villages near Jerusalem to Palestinian control.
Palestinian negotiators are determined to make east Jerusalem the capital of a Palestinian state and demand that Israel withdraws to the boundaries that existed in the city before the 1967 war.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said Israeli leaders "... must prepare the Israeli public that in order to make peace with the Palestinians, the June 1967 boundaries will be sacred and East Jerusalem cannot be anything but the Palestinian state."
Other intractable issues facing Albright will be the questions of refugees, borders and Israeli settlements.
Clinton said that during Albright's trip next week she would work with Barak and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat "on narrowing the gap that still remains between them." – Albawaba.com
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)