Israel's leader does not want to share Jerusalem

12 Dec

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Natanyahu speaks during a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Sunday, Dec. 12, 2010. In the background is a portrait of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism. (AP Photos/Bernat Armangue, Pool)



JERUSALEM, Dec 12 (KATAKAMI/ AP) — Israel’s leader dismissed on Sunday a top ally’s call to share the holy city of Jerusalem with the Palestinians, another reminder of the challenges the U.S. faces as it shifts gears on its troubled Mideast peacemaking strategy.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reaffirmation of his intention to hold on to east Jerusalem was liable to escalate friction between the two sides and with the Americans. The White House Mideast envoy is scheduled to arrive this week in another attempt to push peace efforts forward.

The conflicting claims to east Jerusalem lie at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The dispute over the area, home to sensitive Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy sites, has derailed past peace talks and spilled into violence.

The Palestinians want to establish their future state in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war. Israel later annexed east Jerusalem in a move that is not recognized by the international community.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton expressed frustration with the Israeli-Palestinian impasse over the weekend, though she did not suggest a new way forward. She spoke at a forum in Washington.

Addressing the same gathering, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the holy city will have to be shared as part of a future peace deal.

An Israeli official told The Associated Press that Barak was expressing a personal opinion, not the government’s position.

“Those remarks were not coordinated with the prime minister,” the official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because Netanyahu has not responded publicly to Barak’s remarks or to Clinton’s speech.

Clinton and Barak spoke a few days after the U.S. abandoned efforts to coax Israel into another temporary freeze on new construction in West Bank Jewish settlements.

Since Netanyahu came to power nearly two years ago, Israelis and Palestinians have not gotten anywhere close to tackling the major obstacles to peace such as the status of Jerusalem, borders between Israel and a future Palestinian state, or the fate of millions of Palestinian refugees from the war surrounding Israel’s 1948 creation.

In her speech Friday, Clinton urged both sides to lay out their positions on these core issues “without delay and with real specificity.” She pointedly called for compromise on the contested holy city, observing that “there will surely be no peace without an agreement” on Jerusalem — “the most sensitive of all the issues.”

Israel’s refusal to freeze settlement construction in east Jerusalem led the U.S. last week to abandon its efforts to seek the suspension. The Palestinians’ had refused to resume direct talks without a total halt on construction for Jews in east Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The U.S.-led negotiations — which broke down in September three weeks after an earlier settlement moratorium expired — are going to revert to their previous format of indirect, U.S.-mediated talks.

While openly admitting her frustration, Clinton insisted the Obama administration would continue pressing for a solution. Washington’s special envoy to the Mideast, George Mitchell, is expected to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders this week.  (*)

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