JERUSALEM – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, completing a visit to the region today, has been pressing Israel to sign a document by the end of the year that would divide Jerusalem by offering the Palestinians a state in Israel’s capital city as well as in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, according to top diplomatic sources involved in the talks.
The Israeli team, led by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, has been negotiating the division of Jerusalem – despite claims to the contrary – but would rather conclude an agreement on paper by the end of the year that would give the Palestinians a state in the West Bank, Gaza and some Israeli territory, leaving conclusions on Jerusalem for a later date, the informed diplomatic sources told WND.
The sources said the Palestinian team has been pushing to conclude a deal by January on all core issues, including Jerusalem, and has been petitioning the U.S. to pressure Israel into signing an agreement on paper that offers the Palestinians eastern Jerusalem.
Rice, the sources said, has asked Israeli leaders to bend to what the U.S. refers to as a “compromise position,” concluding an Israeli-Palestinian agreement by the end of the year that guarantees sections of Jerusalem to the Palestinians. But Israel would not be required to withdraw from Jerusalem for a period of one to five years.
The diplomatic sources said the plan is that once an Israeli-Palestinian deal is reached on paper by January, Bush would issue an official letter guaranteeing that the U.S. supports the conclusions of the document.
Any Israeli-Palestinian paper agreement is to finalize a process that began at last November’s U.S. backed Annapolis conference, which seeks to create a Palestinian state, at least on paper, before Bush leaves office.
One Palestinian negotiator speaking to WND described as “crazy” the intensity and frequency of Israeli-Palestinian talks in recent weeks, saying both sides have been meeting on a daily basis, usually at the highest levels. The negotiator said Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Chief Palestinian Negotiator Ahmed Queri have been leading the talks.
The negotiator said Jerusalem is being discussed by both sides and that the two teams are “closer than ever” on coming to an agreement on the status of the city.
This claim was verified to WND by other diplomatic sources involved in the negotiations.
The Palestinian negotiator said Jerusalem would be divided along the framework of the 2000 U.S.-brokered Camp David accords. He said the general philosophy for dividing Jerusalem would be “Arab for Arab and Jew for Jew,” meaning that most Arab-majority eastern sections of Jerusalem would be granted to the Palestinian Authority while Israel would retain Western, Jewish-majority sections.
Israel recaptured eastern Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount – Judaism’s holiest site – during the 1967 Six Day War. The Palestinians have claimed eastern Jerusalem as a future capital. About 244,000 Arabs live in Jerusalem, mostly in eastern neighborhoods. Jerusalem has an estimated total population of 724,000, the majority Jewish.
A number of Arab-majority eastern Jerusalem neighborhoods widely regarded as slated for a Palestinian state include large numbers of Arabs who live on Jewish-owned land illegally. The Jewish National Fund, a U.S.-based nonprofit, owns hundred of acres of eastern Jerusalem land in which tens of thousands of Arabs illegally constructed homes the past few decades. Arabs are now the majority on the Jewish-owned land in question.
Asked by WND whether Jerusalem is currently being negotiated, Mark Regev, Olmert’s spokesman, simply stated, “No.”
Olmert has several times denied Jerusalem is being negotiated. Members of his government coalition have promised to bolt his government and precipitate new elections if Jerusalem is discussed in talks.
Olmert, facing several criminal investigations described as “serious,” recently announced he will resign after his Kadima party holds primaries next month to chose a new leader. That leader is widely expected to continue Israeli-Palestinian talks, especially if frontrunner Livni takes Olmert’s place.
The diplomatic situation in Israel is such that many commentators believe Olmert has an interest in concluding some sort of agreement quickly. Many believe he would like his input in an Israeli-Palestinian agreement to be among his final “achievements.”
WND first exclusively reported Aug. 1 that Olmert told the PA he intends to accelerate negotiations to reach some understanding on paper as soon as September.
Over the weekend, the Israeli media quoted officials close to Olmert stating the prime minister is working for an interim document as soon as next month to be presented to the United Nations. The document likely will not be the conclusion of negotiations but an outline of some of the breakthroughs regarding the West Bank and Gaza.
One PA negotiator told WND of the planned paper: “Papers are very important. It puts limits on the new prime minister. For example, the weak point of Israeli-Syrian negotiations are papers signed by former prime ministers that now must be abided during current negotiations.”
U.S.-influenced plan splits nation
Regarding the expected agreement on the Gaza Strip and West Bank, the general plan, according to top diplomatic sources, is to create a Palestinian state in the vast majority of the West Bank, but for Israel to retain large West Bank Jewish community blocs of Ma’aleh Adumim, Gush Etzion and the areas surrounding Jerusalem, and some land in the northern West Bank adjacent to Israel.
A plan being floated and heavily influenced by the U.S. grants the Palestinians passage between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip on territory that would be jointly patrolled by Israel and the PA. The passageway would give the Palestinians access to areas close to central Israeli population centers.
An area from the Israeli Negev nearly equivalent in land mass to the territory Israel would retain in the West Bank would be transferred to the West Bank – marking the first official Israeli plan that calls for pre-1967 land to be given to the Palestinians. Pre-1967 refers to Israeli territory that was not reconquered in the 1967 Six Day War.
Much of the plan previously was published by WND in a series of articles in recent months and was published last week by Israel’s Haaretz daily.
The plan would be set out on paper and implemented on the Israeli side in stages, while the PA would need to first retake control of the Gaza Strip from Hamas before Israel would give them most of the West Bank.
Jerusalem division plan revealed
Regarding the division of Jerusalem, top diplomatic sources said both sides are close to agreements on specific issues.
One PA negotiator claimed the U.S. has guaranteed the Palestinians that sensitive areas in eastern Jerusalem in which what he termed “extremist Jews” are purchasing real estate would be handed to the Palestinians.
“The Israelis had no problem with this,” the PA negotiator claimed. “We were also told not to worry too much about scattered Jewish properties in Arab neighborhoods, or yeshivas (Jewish seminaries) in the Old City.”
The PA negotiator’s claim could not be verified by sources in Jerusalem.
According to informed Israeli and Palestinian sources, officials from the State Department in 2008 presented both negotiating sides with several proposals for consideration regarding the future status of Jerusalem. It was unclear whether the U.S. proposals were accepted.
One U.S. plan for Jerusalem obtained by WND was divided into timed phases, and among other things called for Israel eventually to consider forfeiting parts of the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site.
According to the first stage of the U.S. proposal, Israel would initially give the PA some municipal and security sovereignty over key Arab neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem. The PA would be allowed to open some official institutions in Jerusalem, could elect a mayor for the Palestinian side of the city and would deploy some kind of so-called basic security force to maintain law and order. The specifics of the force were not detailed in the plan.
The initial stage also calls for the PA to operate Jerusalem municipal institutions, such as offices to oversee trash collection and maintenance of roads.
After five years, if both sides keep specific commitments called for in a larger principal agreement, according to the U.S. plan the PA would be given full sovereignty over agreed upon eastern Jerusalem neighborhoods and discussions would be held regarding an arrangement for the Temple Mount. The plan doesn’t specify which parts of the Temple Mount could be forfeited to the Palestinians or whether an international force may be involved.
The PA also could deploy official security forces in Jerusalem separate from a non-defined basic force after the five year period and could also open major governmental institutions, such as a president’s office, and offices for the finance and foreign ministries.
The U.S. plan leaves Israel and the PA to negotiate which Jerusalem neighborhoods would become Palestinian.
According to diplomatic sources familiar with the plan, while specific neighborhoods were not officially listed, American officials recommended sections of Jerusalem’s Old City as well as certain largely Arab Jerusalem neighborhoods such as Jabal mukabar, Beit Hanina, Abu Dis, and Abu Tur become part of the Palestinian side. Also recommended were the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Shoafat, Kfar Akev and Qalandiya
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