Jerusalem: Israeli Defence Minister Ehud
Barak has suggested that parts of Jerusalem could be handed
over to the Palestinians, as the Jewish state was set to
launch direct peace talks with the Palestinian leadership.
Barak categorically said the Jewish state will part
with overwhelmingly Palestinians dominated parts of the city,
which will be the capital of a future Palestinians state.
"West Jerusalem and 12 Jewish neighborhoods that are
home to 200,000 residents will be ours. The Arab
neighborhoods in which close to a quarter million
Palestinians live will be theirs," he told the Israeli daily
"There will be a special regime in place along with
agreed upon arrangements in the Old City, the Mount of Olives
and the City of David," the Labour party leader underlined.
Hardline Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is in
Washington to begin direct peace negotiations with Palestinian
president Mahmud Abbas tomorrow, has underlined that united
Jerusalem is Israel`s capital for eternity.
Control over east Jerusalem has been a contentious
issue between Israel and the Palestinians. Even as the Jewish
state considers Jerusalem its "eternal and indivisible"
capital, the Palestinians seeks to make east Jerusalem the the
capital of their promised state.
Asked about the possible outcome of the direct talks,
Barak said that it could lead to two states for two nations,
an end to the conflict and the end of all future demands, the
demarcation of a border that will run inside the land of
Israel, and a demilitarized Palestinian state that will be
viable politically, economically, and territorially.
Unfazed by a terror attack that killed four on the eve
of the start of direct talks with the Palestinians, Barak has
expressed optimism, saying that the courage to make "historic
painful" decisions may lead to a peace agreement between the
"I believe that there is a real chance today. If
Netanyahu leads a process, a significant number of rightist
ministers will stand with him. So what is needed is courage to
make historic, painful decisions," the Defence Minister said.
"I`m not saying that there is a certainty for
success, but there is a chance. This chance must be exploited
to the fullest," Barak told the Isreli daily in an interview.
The Israeli defence minister`s optimism stems from
"remarkable changes underway....when Arab states are competing
amongst themselves in arguing over which peace initiative will
be adopted by the international community", giving up their
earlier rejectionist stand.
Barak, who in the past lost his brief stint as the
Prime Minister for offering `unimaginable` concessions for
peace, also noted changes in attitude among Israelis pointing
out that the most vocal critics of his "irresponsible"
concessions, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni
(opposition leader) were now on the side of peace.
On the other core issues of the conflict, the Defence
Minister said Israel will keep the settlement blocs in its
hands, retrieving and relocating the isolated settlements into
the settlement blocs or within Israel, look for a solution
to the refugee problem [whereby refugees return to] the
Palestinian state or are rehabilitated by international aid.
Unperturbed by yesterday evening`s terror attack in a
West Bank settlement in which four people were killed, Barak
said that it was "an attempt to harm the start of the peace
He said looking at the situation in a level-headed
way, "there is no doubt that this is an attempt to harm the
start of the peace talks".
"So while we are steadfastly safeguarding our security
and waging a determined campaign against the perpetrators, we
cannot be deterred from working toward the success of the
peace negotiations", he stressed.
The US is playing an active role in the crucial direct
talks between Israel and the Palestinian leadership tomorrow
in Washington, with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
holding a first round of talks with some of the participating