Clinton rejoins peace talks

Israel shows signs of willingness to give ground in Jerusalem

U.S. proposes four zones

President expected to have `heavy-duty' role at Camp David

July 24, 2000|By Jay Hancock | Jay Hancock,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

THURMONT - The Camp David peace talks shifted back into high gear late yesterday as President Clinton returned from a trip to Japan, and Israel reportedly showed signs of making new concessions on Palestinian demands for a piece of East Jerusalem.

Clinton arrived back from the G-8 summit of industrial nations more than six hours earlier than originally scheduled and was expected to meet into the night with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

"He's back. He's ready to go," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher. "We expect meetings into the night. ... Certainly we expect heavy-duty activity by the president."

Boucher said there is no deadline to completing the negotiations, but added, "We are not here for an unlimited period of time."

He said Clinton's assessment of both sides' positions will be extremely important to whether the summit will move forward.

Boarding his helicopter for a ride from the White House to Camp David in the early evening, Clinton said, "I'm keeping my fingers crossed" for a peace deal.

In the president's three-day absence, little discernible change occurred inside Camp David, where the negotiations entered the 13th day, the amount of time required at the mountain retreat to produce the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement in 1978.

But in the Middle East and elsewhere, both sides fired new rhetorical salvos. Israeli media reported that Barak would give more ground on the subject of Palestinian control of East Jerusalem, and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak flew to Saudi Arabia to discuss the talks with Crown Prince Abdullah.

Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, reported that in phone calls to colleagues over the weekend Barak had "expressed optimism" about the talks and was "willing to make further concessions on the subject of Jerusalem."

U.S. negotiators have reportedly offered oral proposals, based on Israeli ideas, to create four zones in a newly defined Jerusalem. One zone would gain full Palestinian sovereignty. One would provide some Palestinian administrative control under Israeli rule. One would operate under full Israeli sovereignty. And the future of the fourth, comprising the one square kilometer known as the Old City, would be resolved later.

Jerusalem is the main stumbling block of the negotiations. Both Israel and the Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital, in strident rhetoric that leaves no apparent room for compromise.

Arafat promises to reject any deal that doesn't yield Palestinian sovereignty over the Arabic quarters of East Jerusalem; Barak has repeatedly described the ancient city as the "eternal and undivided" capital of his people.

The Israelis had suggested expanding the city to encompass Jewish and Arabic suburbs and in the process produce the appearance of Palestinian control of some districts, without ceding Israeli rights. On Friday, Israeli Cabinet Minister Michael Melchior described a proposal to give "some signs of joint sovereignty - expanded self-administration - of some of the Arab Muslim quarters in the outskirts" of Jerusalem.

But yesterday Israeli Justice Minister Yossi Beilin appeared to go one step further, saying that the Palestinian village of Shuafat and others like it within present Jerusalem boundaries "can be sovereign Palestinian because, in real life, it is already so."

Touring Shuafat in an event apparently staged to prepare Israelis for concessions by Barak, Beilin told reporters that much of the land within present boundaries is "so-called Jerusalem - within Jerusalem's municipal area, but the municipality doesn't serve them. They are not under our real sovereignty, only in our dreams. It shouldn't be the factor over which the talks break down."

The Palestinians repeated yesterday their demand for full control in East Jerusalem.

"The Palestinian position in Camp David is clear and known by the U.S. and Israel - that there will be no possibility of achieving an agreement over Jerusalem in the absence of a recognition of complete Palestinian sovereignty" in East Jerusalem, Hassan Abdel Rahman, Washington representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization, told the Voice of Palestine radio yesterday.

Abdel Rahman's comments were echoed by Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdul-Illah Khatib and other Arab leaders yesterday.

"Jerusalem can't be claimed by one side," Khatib said. "Besides its political and religious importance to the Palestinians, it directly involves Arabs, Muslims and Christians."

Even if a peace agreement is reached, Barak and Arafat will have a hard sell at home.

Yesterday, Barak came under renewed defiance from Jewish settlers on the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They said they will refuse to vacate their homes if Barak tries to hand over their land to the Palestinians.

"We are not scared off. We are going to stay on the ground," settler leader Zeev Hever told Israel's army radio.

Pope John Paul II weighed in yesterday on the Jerusalem issue, reiterating the Vatican's position that the city's holy sites should come under the control of an international administrative body.

Earlier yesterday, Barak, in his first trip outside Camp David since the talks began July 11, accompanied Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright on a visit to Gettysburg, Pa., not far from the presidential retreat. Albright had lunch with Arafat on Saturday at her farm in Hillsboro, Va.

Wire services contributed to this article.

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