Israel Offers Palestinians Another Chance To Negotiate

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

Jerusalem ( - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak announced Monday that Israel was willing to enter into another interim agreement, or a phased permanent understanding, with the Palestinian Authority.

But Jerusalem will be an even harder issue to negotiate after the Knesset passed a bill to establish the borders of the city as they are now, and only permit changes if a majority of Knesset members vote for it.

Speaking at a meeting of his Labor Party caucus, Barak said that Israel would be willing to enter into a phased permanent agreement with the PA.

Israel has undertaken a number of confidence-building measures in order to persuade the PA of its good intentions, the Foreign Ministry said Monday.

Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami spoke with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan Sunday evening. Ben-Ami said he had presented Annan with a list of steps Israel was prepared to take to mark the Muslim fast-month of Ramadan, which began on Monday.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Noam Katz explained that Israel was calling on the Palestinians "to come back to the negotiating table, to put an end to violence and come back to the track of peace."

Katz pointed to several diplomatic thrusts that have taken place in recent days, which have seen Israeli leaders meet or talk with PA leaders. One of the confidence building measures, Katz said, is an easing of a security closure that has prevented the free flow of goods into the Gaza Strip.

"[Now] the burden of proof is on the other side," Katz said. The Palestinians must "do something to prove they are serious" and make a "real effort" to reduce violence.

Jerusalem's Boundaries

Israeli Knesset members voted 84-19 on Monday in favor of establishing the current municipal boundaries of Jerusalem as the city's official borders.

Barak's government supported the Jerusalem bill, which requires a 61-member, absolute majority vote in the Knesset in order to change the boundaries of the city.

The bill was designed to make it more difficult to give away any part of the city, which was united under Israeli rule as a result of the Israeli victory in the 1967 Six-Day war. The international community never recognized the move.

Israel has maintained that Jerusalem will be its united capitol forever. But PA Chairman Yasser Arafat is demanding that at least the eastern part of the city become the capital of a yet to be declared, independent Palestinian state.

A U.S.-brokered summit at Camp David last July broke down primarily over the issue of Jerusalem. Barak had gone further than any other Israeli leader in offering to give Arafat limited rule over the eastern part of the city, but Arafat turned the deal down.

The new law passed today will make it much more difficult - if not impossible - to repeat such an offer in the future.

Observer Call

In another development Monday, the highest-ranking U.N. human rights official repeated her call for an international observer force to be stationed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

In a report to the U.N. General Assembly, Mary Robinson, who visited the region this month, accused Israel of using "excessive force" in quelling Palestinian violence.

"The thrust of the report is urgently calling international attention to the bleak human rights situation in the occupied territories, the need for an international monitoring presence...and the need for measures to be taken to reduce the terrible violence," Robinson told reporters at a press conference in Geneva.

Barak's office had no new response to Robinson's call on Monday but referred to an earlier statement, which said Israel was "opposed to the sending of international observer forces to the [disputed] territories."

The statement also said that Israel had never "negated the possibility" of international supervisors arriving to monitor the implementation of a final peace agreement, "if and when" one is signed.