Sharon vows to fight division of Jerusalem
By Etgar Lefkovits and Herb Keinon
JERUSALEM (September 29) - Likud leader Ariel Sharon vowed yesterday to use "every democratic means" to resist attempts to divide Jerusalem, in response to Prime Minister Ehud Barak's suggestion in an interview with The Jerusalem Post that a peace agreement may allow for separate side-by-side entities called Jerusalem and Al-Quds.
"This is a major historical mistake. It is the first time that a Jewish leader agreed to divide Jerusalem, the capital of the Jewish people for the last 3,000 years," Sharon said after his visit to the Temple Mount. "Jerusalem does not belong to us, but to the entire Jewish people. The fact that one man decided to divide Jerusalem is very wrong and we will try to stop this in every democratic way."
Earlier, Sharon had referred to the Post story as evidence that Barak is not showing any leadership and is weakening Israel.
In the interview, Barak said that "if there is an agreement it will include an end to the conflict, permanent borders for Israel recognized by the world, 80 percent of the settlers in Judea and Samaria under Israeli sovereignty in settlement blocs, security arrangements, principally along the eastern border, and Jerusalem bigger than ever since King David - with a solid Jewish majority for generations, united under our sovereignty, and recognized by the world as the capital of Israel.
"Now I don't want to go into details. There will also be a Palestinian capital that will be called Al-Quds."
Pressed on the Al-Quds suggestion, Barak said: "It will be Jerusalem and Al-Quds, one next to the other, as two capitals."
The Likud said in a statement that "if anyone had any doubt that the prime minister's plan would divide Jerusalem, these comments now finally officially prove, after months of denial and lies to the public... that he stands to be the first Jewish prime minister to divide Jerusalem.
"This is a flagrant violation by Barak of a pledge not only to the Israeli public, but also to the entire Jewish world, for whom Jerusalem is its united, eternal capital."
Palestinian officials welcomed Barak's statements.
"This is the first step, now it should be followed by other steps," said Nabil Abu Rudaineh, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat.
A Palestinian source said Barak's statements reflect what he discussed with Arafat at their meeting on Tuesday night.
"Barak repeated in the interview what the Palestinians have been telling the Israelis for a long time... once there is an agreement on sharing Jerusalem, the whole world will recognize the city as Israel's capital... will recognize Israel's borders, and Israel will normalize its relations with the Arab states," the source said.
Palestinian officials conceded there was also discussion about a US-Egyptian suggestion to place the Temple Mount under temporary supervision of the UN Security Council and the three permanent Arab members of the Jerusalem committee.
Acting Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami and negotiator Gilad Sher were scheduled to return to Israel this morning, after three days of inconclusive talks in the Washington area with US mediators and Palestinian negotiators Saeb Erekat and Mohammed Dahlan.
A State Department official said the two sides, which had met separately with US special envoy Dennis Ross on a number of occasions since they arrived in Washington on Tuesday, met together as well.
"The Israelis and Palestinians met directly, they will continue their contacts, and we will continue our efforts to facilitate their work, and advance the negotiations," the official said.
No further meetings have been planned.
Although there was much speculation last week that the Americans would come up with their own "bridging proposals," the administration, according to a source, has not made any decision on the matter and only said that proposals will be made if there is a chance to successfully close the gaps between the two sides.
Meanwhile, Justice Minister Yossi Beilin met in Rome yesterday with Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini and said that Israel could not agree to full and exclusive Palestinian sovereignty on the Temple Mount. The Palestinians, Beilin said, need to understand the Jewish connection to the Mount, and take it into consideration.
Although Barak has made it clear he will not transfer sovereignty of the site to the Palestinians or an Islamic body, he has not commented on whether he would accept transferring the site to UN supervision, or a combination of UN supervision together with three Islamic Conference states.
Beilin's office quoted Dini as saying that Italy and the European Union will be willing to contribute to the peace process, including financial contributions to help deal with the refugee issue. Beilin is scheduled to meet Pope John Paul II this morning.
UN special peace coordinator Terje Larsen met last night with Arafat in Gaza to deliver a letter from Secretary-General Kofi Annan. No details about the letter were available.
David Franklin and Lamia Lahoud contributed to this report.
© Jerusalem Post 2000