- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 20, 2000

Israel yesterday called for a "timeout" in peace talks, citing a "lack of flexibility" by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on the future of Jerusalem.

"We decided on a brief timeout to summarize positions so far and to make our own assessment," said Danny Yatom, a senior adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

"We are not angry with the Palestinians, and they are not angry with us," Mr. Yatom told Israel Radio.

He called on the Palestinians to offer "more constructive and moderate positions so that the talks or contacts can be continued and the existing gap can be bridged."

U.S.-brokered attempts to reach a Palestinian-Israeli final peace accord leading to creation of a Palestinian state have foundered since the collapse of the Camp David summit in July.

Israelis say that since then the Palestinians have increased their demands by refusing to acknowledge Jewish ties to Jerusalem's Old City and demanding sole control over everything Israel seized in the 1967 war.

Mr. Barak said talks with the Palestinians would resume today with a meeting between negotiators from both sides.

Since Camp David, talks have limped forward on several intractable issues, including the fate of 4 million Palestinian refugees seeking either to move to Israel or win compensation for lost homes and lands.

But the thorniest issue is control over the Old City of Jerusalem, which includes the Temple Mount, site of the ancient Jewish temple of Solomon, as well as Islam's third holiest shrine the Haram al Sharif.

The temple's Western Wall, also called the Wailing Wall, is Judaism's holiest site.

From the end of the British mandate over Palestine in 1948, until the Six Day War of 1967, Jordan controlled the Old City and Israelis were barred from worshipping at or visiting the Western Wall.

After Jordan's army was pushed out of the city during the 1967 war, Israelis were enraged to discover that the Arabs had used Jewish tombstones to pave roads and used ancient synagogues of the Jewish quarter as stables and warehouses.

While 90 percent of the residents of the Old City are Christian or Muslim Palestinian Arabs, and de facto control over the two domed mosques on the Temple Mount have been left in Arab control since 1967, Israelis are reluctant to give up sovereignty over the historic region.

According to Israeli and Palestinian negotiators close to the talks, several ideas have been put forth to separate Jerusalem:

• A north-south border would be drawn leaving Arabs on the east and Israelis on the west, with adjustments for Arab and Israeli neighborhoods in the north that cross that line.

• Palestinians would have municipal control over the Old City's Arab areas, which would be linked politically to the Palestinian state expected.

• The status quo of the holy sites would remain unchanged, with Israelis controlling the Western Wall and Palestinians controlling the surface of the Temple Mount with its two mosques.

• Sovereignty over the Temple Mount would be divided.

However, according to Israeli and Palestinian sources, since the Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon in May, hard-liners in the Palestinian areas have urged Mr. Arafat to dig in his heels.

Both Arabs and Israelis are under pressure to reach an agreement within six weeks before the Israeli parliament reconvenes Oct. 30 since Mr. Barak's coalition government lacks a majority and could well collapse.

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