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Barak says Palestinians must be flexible on Jerusalem
JERUSALEM (Reuters) -- Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak urged Palestinians Wednesday to be flexible in peace negotiations over Jerusalem, as Palestinians said they had made all the compromises they could on the holy city.
Barak issued a statement saying the sides would not be able to negotiate on Jerusalem if the Palestinians insisted on digging their heels in. The fate of Jerusalem was thought to be the biggest obstacle at last month's Camp David peace summit.
"Between the Americans, Egyptians, the Palestinians and ourselves there is no meaningful discussion (on Jerusalem). Only if we see a certain flexibility and open mind by the other side will there be a chance that a discussion will take place," Barak said in a statement issued by his office.
He added he was "not familiar" with a report in the Haaretz newspaper that the United States proposed to divide Jerusalem's Temple Mount area -- which is holy to Muslims and Jews -- into four sections with varying sovereignty formulae.
Barak reportedly broke from Israel's long-standing mantra that Jerusalem is its "united and eternal capital" at last month's failed summit and offered the Palestinians sovereignty over outlying Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.
Israeli cabinet minister Haim Ramon said without Palestinian flexibility the sides would fail in their bid to strike a deal.
"If the Palestinians (say) that we are going to be the only side to make concessions, I am afraid that will be very difficult to reach an agreement," Ramon said.
Palestinians say concessions already made
But Palestinian minister and senior negotiator Hassan Asfour said Palestinian President Yasser Arafat had already made concessions on the city sacred to Muslims, Jews and Christians.
"At Camp David we made a major new concession of only talking about the fate of East Jerusalem," Asfour said.
"I want to remind Barak and Ramon that (the 1993) Oslo (accords) stated that all of Jerusalem, the west and the east sides, are up for negotiation," he said.
Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in a move not recognized internationally. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state they plan to declare as early as Sept. 13.
The European Union's Middle East envoy Miguel Angel Moratinos said in Gaza after meeting Arafat that the European Union was sticking to the so-called Berlin Declaration of March 1999 when the EU expressed its support for a Palestinian state.
"We recognize the full rights of the Palestinians to declare their state whenever they decide to do so and we will stick to the Berlin Declaration," Moratinos told reporters. President Bill Clinton said after meeting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo Wednesday that time was running out for a Middle East peace deal.
A flurry of diplomatic activity has been taking place ahead of next week's United Nations Millennium Summit which Clinton, Barak and Arafat are due to attend.
So far there are no plans for Arafat and Barak to meet but they are slated to hold separate talks with Clinton on the summit's sidelines.
Summit if talks with Clinton fruitful
Palestinian minister Nabil Shaath said Tuesday that if the talks with Clinton were fruitful it could set the scene for a second peace summit.
But in Gaza, the radical Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) issued a statement saying the United States had failed as a peace broker and future efforts should be conducted by the United Nations.
Palestinian officials and negotiators have criticized Washington for saying Barak showed more flexibility at Camp David than Arafat. They say that by taking side, the United States showed it was not a neutral broker.
A day after Clinton's brief visit to Egypt, Arafat made the same trip for talks with Mubarak. He was returning from a 15-nation Islamic summit in Morocco which issued a statement on Monday in support of the Palestinian stance on Jerusalem.
Acting Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami indicated he was willing to entertain new ideas to break the impasse.
"If we are ready to engage in starting new ideas, we would like to know if on the other side Arafat is indeed ready to contemplate them," Ben-Ami told reporters after meeting German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer in Berlin.
Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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