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Barak said to have accepted joint sovereignty in parts of East Jerusalem
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak has accepted a U.S. proposal that Israel and the Palestinians share sovereignty over parts of Arab East Jerusalem, an Israeli Cabinet minister said on Friday.
Michael Melchior, Minister for Diaspora Affairs and part of Barak's public relations team at the Mideast summit at Camp David, Maryland, has confirmed what his country's officials in the U.S. had admitted only privately.
He said on Israel Radio, "What's being spoken of is a proposal that is definitely within the red line of the prime minister and therefore the prime minister agreed to the proposal.
"It's about administration-plus, perhaps also with signs of joint sovereignty, in the (Arab) neighborhoods outside the Old City, in the neighborhoods at the edge of Jerusalem such as Shuafat," Melchior said.
In an interview with CNN's Jerusalem Bureau Chief Mike Hanna, he said the proposal "keeps the general idea that Jerusalem remains as the Israeli capital (a position Israel was not prepared to move from) but with the proposal that some Moslem areas on the outskirts of the city are symbols of sovereignty."
Melchior said by "symbols of sovereignty" he meant that these areas would be "places of extended self-rule" for Palestinians.
"We cannot divide Jerusalem. We cannot have Jerusalem like Berlin. We have no other capital," he said, but indicated that Israel wanted to bring the Palestinians more into play in the Arab areas of Jerusalem.
"This proposal is something we can accept," Melchior said, "but the Palestinians need to bring leadership to the table, such has not been seen in history before."
Earlier, an Israeli official confirmed that U.S. proposals were on the table under which the two sides would share sovereignty over parts of Arab East Jerusalem, captured by Israel 33 years ago and annexed in a move never internationally recognized.
On Friday U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will continue to urge both parties to make tough decisions on Jerusalem before President Bill Clinton returns from the G8 summit in Okinawa, Japan.
Albright met separately twice with Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on Thursday, the 10th day of talks the White House said were concluding -- before an unexpected restart just before Clinton left for Japan. After Albright's meetings, the parties sat down together for a buffet-style dinner.
White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said Clinton will cut short his Japan trip to return early to the U.S. to oversee the continuing negotiations.
Clinton was originally expected to leave Okinawa, site of the Group of Eight meeting, on Sunday afternoon to arrive back in Washington on Sunday evening. But Lockhart said the White House is now looking at paring the president's schedule in Japan, and the new departure time should be determined soon.
Clinton and daughter Chelsea arrived in Okinawa at 9:22 a.m. Friday (8:22 p.m. Thursday EDT) for the G8 economic summit. He will attend a working session of the major industrial nations to discuss economic issues and then meet Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Group of Eight consists of the world's seven leading industrial nations -- the United States, Canada, Japan, Germany, France, Britain and Italy -- plus Russia. Participants plan to discuss issues ranging from economics -- the information-technology revolution in particular -- to security concerns.
At Camp David, Clinton will return to talks where both sides are engaging the issue of the future of Jerusalem. Israeli sources say Barak is awaiting a response from Arafat.
Israeli sources say Barak is talking tough, promising to leave if there is no breakthrough by Sunday. But that position is seen by others as ongoing pressure on Arafat to accept a deal.
Miguel Angel Moratinos, the European Union's Mideast peace envoy, said, "The Americans have been working very hard on giving ideas." While Moratinos said those ideas didn't qualify as "a formal proposal," a main focus is how to bridge the publicly stated positions on Jerusalem, which is known by the Palestinians as Al Quds.
In the publicly stated positions, the Palestinians say east Jerusalem must become the capital of a future Palestinian state, and the Israelis say they must have sole sovereignty over an undivided Jerusalem.
A main concept reportedly being discussed at Camp David is "shared control, shared sovereignty" in parts of Jerusalem's walled Old City -- site of holy places for Islam, Judaism and Christianity -- and in the Palestinian neighborhoods outside the Old City.
"There is a whole package," Moratinos said. "There is the municipal, there is the periphery of Jerusalem, there is the holy places."
Despite the differences, Israeli and Palestinian sources and independent observers stress that the negotiations have gone a long way.
Change of heart
The peace summit had ended early Thursday with a puffy-eyed, raspy-voiced Clinton ready to fly to Japan. But in a last-minute change of heart, Barak and Arafat decided to stay at Camp David until Clinton returned.
"Nobody wanted to give up. We all thought it was over, then we discovered that nobody wanted to give up," Clinton said. "The gaps remain substantial, but there has been progress, and we must all be prepared to go the extra mile."
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said at an early evening press briefing Thursday, "All the cars were lined up. The bags were packed. People were ready to go. At any moment we could have gotten in the motorcade and departed. This was real."
Negotiators haggled for nine days over the borders of a Palestinian state, the fate of Jewish settlements on the West Bank, the fate of Palestinian refugees and the future of Jerusalem.
The Palestinian desire to make east Jerusalem the capital of a new Palestinian state "is not acceptable to anybody in Israel," Zalman Shoval, spokesman for the opposition right wing Likud party in Israel, told CNN on Thursday.
"Whether one is left or right, Jerusalem has a place in Israel's 3,000-year-old history," Shoval said. "... Israel cannot make the sort of compromise they want."
"In Clinton's absence, officials predicted the bywords for negotiators at Camp David would be to "refresh, regroup and reassess."
'It was better to stay'
Boucher declined to provide a detailed account of who made the first move to try to keep the talks going, saying only that a consensus emerged among the leaders that "it was better to stay than leave."
Even in the heat of the talks -- and even after the emotional roller coaster of the previous 24 hours -- the parties remain at ease with one another, taking meals together and chatting informally, Boucher said.
"It continues to be friendly, it continues to be comfortable," he said. "But this is very, very hard. This is very, very tough."
Albright to step in for Clinton in Mideast peace talks
The Israeli Government's Official Website, by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
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