- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 9, 2001

JERUSALEM More than 100,000 people marched with blue-and-white Israeli flags into Jerusalem's Old City yesterday to protest President Clinton's peace plan, sounding what may have been a death knell for a deal before Mr. Clinton leaves office.

A top Palestinian negotiator also declared his rejection of the plan, providing further cause for gloom, although Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has not yet announced his final decision.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who has accepted the Clinton plan as a basis for negotiations, also appears resigned to failure. In a televised news conference with American reporters yesterday, he said he was ready to unilaterally separate Israelis and Palestinians over the next two years.

Israelis began gathering at the Old City's Jaffa gate in the late afternoon in an extraordinary show of force by the country's conservative camp, which by all signs is set to capture power in next month's election.

The protesters poured into the city from Israeli towns and West Bank settlements to gather before the stone walls of the Old City, many of them wrapped in Star of David flags.

From a stage overlooking the sea of demonstrators, Ehud Olmert, Jerusalem's Jewish mayor, lambasted Mr. Barak in Hebrew for agreeing to cede part of the city, and then switched to English to deliver his message in a language Mr. Clinton would understand.

"We are a nation with long memories that go back thousands of years," he thundered. "We never forgive those who dare to raise their hands against our most precious treasures."

Thousands of police were mobilized on foot and horseback to separate the marchers from the Palestinians, who huddled in small groups in corners where the city's Jewish and Arab sectors meet and waited for the protest to end.

"They'll go home in a few hours, but the mess they made will remain," said Mohammed Riad, pointing to a mound of discarded placards and stickers.

A few miles away, in the West Bank town of Ramallah, Palestinian officials spurned Mr. Clinton's ideas and said Palestinian demands had been largely ignored.

The speaker of the Palestinian parliament, Ahmed Qurie, said Mr. Clinton's plan was unacceptable because of flaws including its failure to guarantee unqualified Palestinian sovereignty over the Temple Mount which Palestinians call the Noble Sanctuary.

Palestinians also are deeply troubled by the plan's refusal to allow for a return by Palestinian refugees to homes in what is now Israel.

"We can't accept Clinton's ideas as a basis for future negotiations or a future settlement. Clinton didn't take Arafat's reservations into account, and these ideas don't offer our people their legitimate rights," Mr. Qurie said.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat added that any talks must be based on U.N. resolutions calling for an Israeli withdrawal from the land it won in war and a return of the Palestinian refugees to Israel.

Despite the setbacks, Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright insisted during a visit to the United Nations yesterday that the Clinton administration would continue to work for a settlement "for as long as we are in office."

She said special envoy Dennis Ross would return to the region today, "and he is going to do everything he can to narrow the differences."

But some Israeli officials predicted that, with an agreement appearing out of reach, the United States would now ask the two sides to sign a watered-down version of the Clinton proposal that could serve as the basis for future talks.

That might be the focus of Mr. Ross' efforts, they said.

Mr. Clinton's proposal, a modification of ideas Israelis and Palestinians discussed at a failed Camp David summit nearly six months ago, calls for Palestinians to take charge of the Temple Mount, a site of deep religious significance to both sides, but give up any hope of returning to homes in Israel.

It also proffers Palestinians a state in 94 percent to 96 percent of the West Bank and all of Gaza.

Both east and west Jerusalem have been under Israeli control since the 1967 Middle East war. Israel annexed East Jerusalem that year, and no Israeli leader dared suggest giving it back until Mr. Barak offered the Palestinians a neighborhood swap in the talks at Camp David.

The negotiations broke down over minutiae the very details Mr. Clinton had sought to resolve with his latest proposal. But three months of Israeli-Palestinian fighting in the West Bank and Gaza have intensified the disputes and deepened the distrust.

"Arafat is a genocidal murderer, not a peace partner," read a sign held out by one demonstrator in the Old City who, like most in the crowd, wore a skullcap.

Other speakers summoned history in a way only Jews and Arabs can to validate Israel's hold over all of Jerusalem, including the eastern half of the city where 200,000 Palestinians live.

"Jews were here 1,700 years before the first Arab set foot on the soil of this land," said a rabbi addressing the crowd. "No one has the right to give up any part of this holy city. It belongs to the entire Jewish people."

The remark echoed the position of Palestinians, who say Islamic shrines in the Old City are the property of all Muslims and cannot be subject to compromise. The shrines, the al-Aqsa mosque and the Mosque of Omar, sit on top of the Temple Mount, the platform on which the ancient Jewish Temple had been perched until it was destroyed some 2,000 years ago.

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