Jerusalem Frustrates Agreement At Summit




WASHINGTON D.C. -- When they gathered Monday night at Camp David for a final, all-out negotiating session with Israeli and Palestinian officials, U.S. President Bill Clinton and his aidesthought a historic deal might still be within their reach.


In a desperate gambit, they had offered to postpone a decision on the destiny of Jerusalem, the toughest sticking point, and conclude a pact on issues that were easier. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians turned that idea down, officials said.


Still on the table were ways to split the difference f giving part of Jerusalem to a new Palestinian state while maintaining Israeli sovereignty over most of the city.


"There seemed to be an openness to these ideas," a top U.S. negotiator said. "We still thought we had a chance."


But as the meeting dragged on toward midnight, the Palestinian negotiators hesitated, dug in their heels, and finally said they didn't believe that their leader, Yasser Arafat, was ready to take the next step.


At some point f the accounts of exhausted officials differ on exactly when f Clinton met with Arafat and warned him that he was throwing away a historic opportunity.


"The president pressed him hard," a White House aide said. "Voices may have been raised ? but the chairman said he didn't think he could go any further."


The two-week-long summit was over. Instead of an agreement, Clinton received a starchy letter from Arafat reciting the Palestinians' objections to a deal. A courier delivered it at 3 a.m. Tuesday.


In a sense, officials said, the final hours of Camp David II on Monday and Tuesday were a mirror of the extraordinary summit.


Israelis and Palestinians surprised each other with how close they could come to agreement on issues that were once taboo, such as the declaration of a Palestinian state and the return of Palestinian refugees. But in the end, the fragile framework collapsed over the one issue that couldn't be finessed: who would hold sovereignty over Jerusalem.


U.S. negotiators knew Jerusalem would be a sticking point. Both Israelis and Palestinians have long claimed the city for themselves. The two sides had never managed to discuss Jerusalem seriously in the seven years since their 1993 Oslo peace agreement.


So, several times, the Americans raised the idea of a deal without Jerusalem, they said. But the Israelis were skeptical and the Palestinians were adamantly opposed.


Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak said he offered the Palestinians sovereignty over the Arab neighborhoods on Jerusalem's eastern edge. The deal would have kept the Old City, which contains sites sacred to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, under Israeli rule, Israeli officials said.


That was further than any Israeli leader had ever gone before. Arafat turned it down.


The real problem, U.S. officials said, was Israelis and Palestinians arrived at Camp David in different frames of mind.


"On the Israeli side, a conscious decision had been taken to see if this could be concluded right now," the top U.S. negotiator said. On the Palestinian side, there was "a sense that there needed to be more caution."