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Mideast peace talks to resume Thursday
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli's acting Foreign Minister, Shlomo Ben-Ami, said on Wednesday that Middle East peace talks would resume on Thursday with the United States taking a major role in the negotiations.
Ben-Ami's announcement came as the September 13 deadline for an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord -- slipped past.
Ben-Ami said the United States will hold separate sessions with Palestinian and Israeli negotiators in New York, but the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams are not scheduled to meet face-to-face.
A U.S.-brokered accord is "closer than ever," despite missed, said Justice Minister Yossi Beilin.
Beilin, one of the architects of the 1993 Oslo peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians, said on Wednesday that -- compared to disagreements that existed more than seven years ago -- both sides are now "close on everything: on the settlements, on the borders, on the refugees, and on Jerusalem."
"It is a golden opportunity when the American administration is ready to be so much involved and has invested so much in the peace process," Beilin said in an interview with CNN. "I am still optimistic about getting the solution in the very near future."
However, negotiations are now entering their "most difficult chapter," Beilin said.
Although progress was made at the Camp David summit in July, talks broke down largely over the issue of the future status of Jerusalem, home to sites sacred to Islam, Judaism and Christianity.
On September 13, a self-imposed deadline for a final peace deal lapsed with each side blaming the other for a deadlock in talks since Camp David.
To give peace talks more of a chance, the Palestinians also delayed until at least November 15 a declaration of statehood that was supposed to have taken place as early as Wednesday.
Jerusalem key issue
Once Jerusalem's disputed status is resolved, Beilin said, "I believe we solve the whole question of the permanent agreement, and we are very close to it; it is actually around the corner."
Israel captured Arab East Jerusalem in a 1967 war, annexing it and declaring the entire city its indivisible capital, a move not recognized internationally. Palestinians want the eastern sector of the city as the capital of their future state.
Beilin said any solution "should be win-win." If either side feels "they lose and we win, or the other way around, it won't be a real solution, and that is why it is so difficult to find a solution, but I really believe we are very close to it."
Beilin said he hopes Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat would show leadership by taking brave steps to end the 52-year-old conflict.
"I'm sorry that some of these deadlines have been missed, especially by a government in Israel that has been very much against the peace process for three years between 1996 and 1999," Beilin said.
Last week in New York, Barak and Arafat promised U.S. President Bill Clinton they would continue their dialogue by resuming negotiations for four to five weeks, after which the leaders might meet to assess the results.
"When there's a will by both sides, the final five weeks might be sufficient," Beilin said. "I hope Palestinians and Israelis will be strong enough to get to the moment of truth, to the permanent solution, which is around the corner."
Palestinians have said it would be possible to clinch a final deal in the coming weeks only if Israel withdraws from areas it occupied in 1967, including Arab East Jerusalem.
U.S. involvement offers 'rare opportunity'
Beilin said that since the 1993 Oslo peace deal was signed, he had always proposed jumping over interim issues and delving directly into final-status talks.
"Regretfully both sides were not ready for the final solution then. It was rejected by both sides ... mainly because people thought it was premature," he said.
"But the room for maneuver for both leaderships is bigger than what they really think, and I think once they take brave decisions then they can convince their peoples to go along and to support them," Beilin added.
He said the sides should seize the opportunity of having Clinton place the Middle East high on the U.S. agenda.
"It might take years until the Americans are again so much interested and ready to be involved, and that is why we have quite a rare opportunity in the coming weeks in order to conclude negotiations," he said.
"But it doesn't mean if, God forbid, this opportunity is missed that we have to turn our backs to each other and say, 'Alas, there's no peace between us,'" Beilin said.
"There should never, ever be deadlines which become dead ends."
CNN Correspondent Jerrold Kessel and Reuters contributed to this report.
Israel and Palestinians say coming weeks decisive
The Israeli Government's Official Web site, by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
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