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Final hours of Mideast summit tick down with no agreement in sight
CAMP DAVID, Maryland (CNN) -- American officials say Palestinians and Israelis are still hard at work at the Camp David summit, but a comprehensive peace between the perennial enemies appeared as elusive as ever on Wednesday.
Israeli sources said earlier that Prime Minister Ehud Barak was prepared to leave the summit Wednesday evening "without an agreement ... because after serious discussions we discovered the other side did not act like real partners for peace."
Ofir Pines, a Labor Party lawmaker and the chairman of Barak's governing coalition, said he had been told by delegation sources that Barak was planning to leave -- and added that he did not believe the two sides could reach an accord.
"The Palestinian Authority is not prepared, simply is not prepared, to reach an understanding to reach a peace agreement with Israel," he said on Israel radio.
But White House press secretary Joe Lockhart told CNN that "no one has indicated they are walking out" of the talks between Barak and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.
"We assume the prime minister or his delegation would inform us if they were preparing to leave, and they have not done so," Lockhart said Wednesday morning after a flurry of speculation about Barak's possible departure and what that might mean to the peace process.
Officials indicated that the major snag was the final status of Jerusalem. The Palestinians want to locate their capital in Jerusalem, while the Israelis staunchly say the ancient city will remain solely and forever in Israeli hands.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan on Wednesday called on both Israelis and Palestinians to compromise at the talks
"I urge all parties to focus on the issue as we get down to the wire in the spirit of give and take, and make the kind of compromises that are necessary to get compromises, so we can move on," said Annan, upon return from a month-long trip around the world.
Annan said he has been in contact with the Palestinian delegation but would not comment on those discussions, citing the news blackout.
The heart of the matter: Jerusalem
The Palestinians, too, expressed discouragement. Their unofficial spokeswoman, Hanan Ashrawi, said from Israel that it would take a "miracle" to get an agreement.
"I think Barak has to undergo serious self-examination," she told Associated Press Television News, "because what he has done in many ways is go to Camp David with inflexible, intractable positions."
"And then predictably, when the talks do not achieve any kind of solution, he is ready to blame the Palestinians," she said.
Palestinian sources said the Israelis have offered to give them "municipal control" or "autonomy" in Arab neighborhoods of eastern Jerusalem, with the Israelis maintaining sovereignty.
But the Palestinians called such an arrangement unacceptable.
Sources familiar with the talks said the Palestinians also want admission from the Israelis that they are responsible for the removal of Palestinian refugees. The sources said Barak's key issue is getting from the Palestinians an "end of conflict" agreement declaring that the two sides are at peace.
Christianity demands a voice
Meanwhile, Christian leaders in Jerusalem demanded the right to air their issues at the summit. They made the request in a letter dated July 17 and sent to Reuters on Wednesday.
The letter was addressed to U.S. President Bill Clinton, Barak and Arafat at the summit near Washington.
Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah, Greek Orthodox Patriarch Diodoros I and Armenian Orthodox Patriarch Torkom II sent the letter.
"It might be well advisable to have representatives from our three Patriarchates and the Custody of the Holy Land at the Camp David summit meeting as much as at any future (forum) in order to provide continuity and consultation on our future and on our rights," the letter said.
The letter said the churches wanted to ensure by their presence at summits that the rights of Christians were "maintained unequivocally and safeguarded fully."
'Last day ... there's going to be a lot of this'
Clinton had been scheduled to leave Washington about 9 a.m. Wednesday but now is not expected to leave until Thursday to attend a Group of Eight economic meeting in Okinawa.
A U.S. official familiar with the talks told CNN that the Americans were "aware of what (the Israelis) are saying, less aware of what they are doing."
That official noted that Barak and Arafat had said all along they would leave when Clinton left.
Another source close to the negotiations said the delay in Clinton's departure for Japan "should not signal that there is an agreement."
A second senior official said the two sides' positioning was no surprise.
"Both parties will over the next several hours position themselves for failure and if they feel the need, just as aggressively position themselves for success," he said.
This official noted that earlier in the week the Palestinians accused the Israelis of not negotiating in good faith and also threatened to pull out of the talks.
"It's the last day, there's going to be a lot of this," this official said.
Barak preparing to depart from Camp David without deal
The Israeli Government's Official Website, by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
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