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Barak drops Jerusalem suburb from land handover
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Facing opposition pressure and complaints from his own Cabinet, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak abandoned plans to include a Jerusalem suburb in land his government plans to hand over to Palestinian control.
The village of Anata, home to about 8,500 people, was to be part of the 6.1 percent of the West Bank that Israel planned to turn over to the Palestinian Authority.
Israeli-Palestinian peace talks stalled in February, and they only recently resumed with an agreement to go forward with the handover.
'What will we do next?'
But conservative Israeli lawmakers and members of the smaller parties in Barak's ruling coalition objected vociferously to the possibility of handing over Anata.
"All this in order to bring (Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat) back to the table," Interior Minister Nathan Sharansky said. "So what will we do next week?"
Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert called the plan "totally unacceptable," and warned that the three minor parties in Barak's coalition would have quit the government. The area is also home to numerous Jewish settlers, who want the area to remain under Israeli control.
Barak was forced to forsake the latest plan and pledge that he would keep Jerusalem "eternally under our sovereignty, united."
Israel regards all of Jerusalem, including areas captured in the 1967 Middle East war, as its capital. The Palestinians want east Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. Israel captured east Jerusalem during the war and annexed it in a move not recognized internationally.
Barak's about-face was his second this year on the question of what portions of the occupied West Bank to turn over to Palestinians. The first West Bank suburb withdrawn was Abu Dis.
The reversals illustrate how shaky his position has become. Barak only narrowly survived a vote of confidence in Israel's parliament on Monday.
He was elected in 1999 on promises to restart peace talks but finds himself unable to make offers to the Palestinians without risking his own mandate.
Israel and the Palestinians are trying to reach a comprehensive peace agreement by September -- one that would resolve the status of Jerusalem.
Palestinians say Israel's parliamentary squabbles are costing it credibility at the negotiating table.
"I do not feel Israel should do negotiations with themselves," senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said. "The Israelis should make peace with us."
Jerusalem Bureau Chief Walter Rodgers and Reuters contributed to this report.
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