Barak Says Israeli-PA Deal In Doubt

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Israel has gone as far as it will go in making concessions, particularly on the issues of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees, and it is time for Palestinian Authority leaders to make decisions in this "moment of truth" Israeli leaders have asserted.

Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami, speaking in New York Monday, said Israel would not give up its rights to Jerusalem and would never take in millions of Palestinian refugees.

Meanwhile Prime Minister Ehud Barak said he was not certain a deal could be reached with the PA, mainly because of differences over the issue of Jerusalem.

"I'm not sure there will be an accord," Barak said in a radio interview on Tuesday. "If there isn't we will be united in the knowledge that the current government has done everything to conclude a deal and to avoid the tragedy that could occur in the event of failure."

Barak dismissed the idea of settling for a partial accord which would put off an agreement on Jerusalem's future until a later date.

"To reach an accord without Jerusalem would be a return to the policy of the ostrich sticking its head in the sand."

Israeli experts say that a partial agreement would be worth nothing to Israel as it would not put an end to the conflict between Israel and the PA - Israel's sole benefit from the peace process.

Jerusalem has proved to be the issue which has most resisted resolution. Israel has maintained overall sovereignty over the city since it reunited eastern and western Jerusalem as a result of the 1967 Six-Day War.

'Awesome attachment'

Within the Old City walls is the Temple Mount or Haram al-Sharif, Judaism's most holy site, upon which stand two mosques, one of them the third holiest site in Islam.

In New York, Ben-Ami told the opening of the U.N. General Assembly on Monday that Israel was not claiming "exclusivity" over the holy sites but wanted recognition of Jewish connections to them.

"Just as we do not question the sincerity of the sentiments of others toward their holy sites in Jerusalem," Ben-Ami said, "we expect that others will not question the Jewish people's deep, awesome attachment to Jerusalem and its holy sites - from which we will never again be parted."

Among proposals for breaking the deadlock over Jerusalem is one calling for the U.N. Security Council to rule over the city.

Ben-Ami told reporters Israel did not rule out a U.N. role, although PA officials dismissed the idea.

The Vatican, too, has insisted on a special international status for the Old City holy sites. Pope John Paul II reiterated again on Monday the need for an "internationally guaranteed" special status for the Old City.

PA Chairman Yasser Arafat criticized Barak on Monday for rejecting the idea of Islamic rule over the Temple Mount.

"It's not up to him to decide," Arafat said.


Ben-Ami said in New York that the problem of the more than three-an-a-half million Palestinians who live in refugee camps was the "inevitable by-product" of Arab and Jewish fears and bitter fighting over the years.

"We believe that, once established, it is the Palestinian state that should provide for the vindication of the Palestinian claim for the right of return," Ben-Ami said.

"The notion is preposterous that a nation should create a state only in order to gather its exiles in a neighboring state," he added.

The PA is demanding that Israel take moral responsibility for the 700,000 Palestinians who fled their homes at the creation of the state in 1948. It also wants Israel to agree to absorb them and several million descendents.

Speaking later at the Council on Foreign Relations, Ben-Ami Israel would be committing "national suicide" by taking in millions of Palestinian refugees.

"We want peace but we are not lunatics," he said.

Ben-Ami said no prime minister before or after Barak had or would go further that the present prime minister in offering compromises touching "the outer limits of his options as an Israeli and a Jew.

"I call upon our Palestinian partners to realize that history has brought us to the moment of truth and decision from which we are not allowed to escape empty-handed without inflicting severe punishments on our own peoples."

It was not time for further negotiations, he said; it was time for leaders to make decisions.